Cincinnati Chili is NOT a Warm Condiment!!!

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This past weekend was a particularly beautiful Fall weekend in Cincinnati.   The air was crisp and the leaves were turning their hues of auburn, magenta, and burnt ochre. My friend Jeanne and I decided to enjoy it with a roadtrip to our southern neighbor to the south, Louisville, Kentucky.    They were celebrating sort of a ‘Tall Stacks’ on their Ohio riverfront to mark the 100th birthday of their local paddlewheel, the Belle of Louisiville.   We landed tickets to the lunch steamboat parade cruise on another steamboat, the Spirit of Jefferson, a small but quaint three decker.

As we boarded the sparklingly clean boat, and found a window table where we’d camp for the cruise, we decided to parch our thirst with a little bourbon at the second deck bar. My eyes were first drawn to the delicious display of bourbons they had, one of which was the Double Barrell Woodstone. After the awesome bartender gave us both tastes of this delicious concoction we decided that was our drink.

Then, as we were waiting for our drinks, my eyes spotted something so offensive that I almost yelled in horror.   But instead, as the journalist that I think I am, I first documented with a picture and then pointed out the offense to Jeanne.  That something so offensive was a double, hot condiment dispenser of nacho cheese and ‘coney dog chili’.   I was offended for several reasons.   First, as expected, there was a glob of drying, fake nacho cheese that had dripped on the base from the nacho dispensing side which I thought was completely disgusting.   And then to group chili with something so fake as nacho cheese sauce, completely offended my Cincinnati sensibilities.       You see, in Cincinnati, our chili is just not some hot condiment that can be ‘dispensed’ on top of a hot dog. No, it’s a chili that takes an overnight stewing to open the flavors of the 18 herbs and spices of its Macedonian/Turkish ‘baharat’ spice blend.

Whatever additives and modifications the hot dispenser coney dog chili had to go through to be able to flow through the internal pipe mechanism, without leaving globs of drying, dessicated meat in the bends and loops unnerved me.       And, to be fair, in most places outside of Cincinnati, coney dog chili, or chili sauces is nearly a condiment.   But that certainly doesn’t make this dispenser right.

We can for sure thank the Macedonians for bringing the coney island – ‘saltsa kima’ style meat sauce on top of a hot dog with onions – from New York to Cincinnati.   We can thank our Macedonians for it’s eventual evolution into our beloved cheese coney.   But our Macedonians – the brothers Kiradjieff in 1922 at the Empress Chili Parlor on Vine Street – not only took the coney island and adapted it, they took the chili, formulated it with high quality meats – no heart or other offal meats – and gave it many depths of flavor.

At the time chili was assumed to be made from a diner’s daily left over meat – ground up and highly spiced to make up for its age.   Cincinnati’s Macedonians then innovated and created a new dish that exists nowhere else in the world, but in Cincinnati – the Three Way – with chili, ladled over cooked spaghetti, with a topping of fresh Wisconsin cheddar cheese.   Now that’s brilliant.  Our Macedonians had creativity and spirit and ingenuity.

The country’s other Macedonians innovated the coney island to their respective areas of settlement.   With sweat and hard work, they built the food industry to help each other build a new life in America.  As a result each Macedonian-settled area of the country has it’s own version of the coney island.   In Detroit, their coney islands have a chili made with beef hearts over a thick, meaty frankfurter, with onions, no cheese.     New York, New Jersey, and parts of Pennsylvania have the Texas Hot, again a red hot with chili and onions, no cheese.   There are the Michigans in parts of New York that mirror the Detroit Coney Islands.   West Virginia has its slaw dogs, with chili over a hot dog with onions and creamy cole slaw, no cheese.   Finally, East Central Kentucky has something they call the chili bun, a ‘naked coney’ without the dog, but only a bun with chili, mustard and chopped sweet onions.

In a Cincinnati chili parlor, the chili is made daily of fresh ground lean beef and 18 secret herbs and spices and cooked overnight, held in a large kettle over a steam table.   It’s ladled respectfully into bowls, on spaghetti for three, four, and five ways, and over coney’s to be topped with a handful of fresh cheddar cheese.   Never, I say, NEVER will you find it dispensed from an automated hot condiment machine.

As we approach October 22 tomorrow, the 92nd Birthday of Cincinnati chili, I would like to thank Athanas and Ivan Kiradjieff for their ingenuity and steadfastness to bring us one of the best new food inventions of the world.     French Chef Jean Robert de Cavel claims, ‘there are no new foods.”   That may be true, everywhere else, but in Cincinnati!

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New Latin American Streetfood – the Arepa

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This past weekend, I went to the Louisville, Kentucky, to an event that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the steamboat,  the Belle of Louisville.   This grand old dame of the Ohio River was accompanied by the Spirit of Jefferson, the Spirit of Peoria, and two B & B Riverboats from Cincinnati, in a parade up the Ohio.   Along the shores of the public landing were food booths, indicative of the southern fare you’d find in Louisville – bourbon, hot browns, shrimp and grits and other southern fare.   But I saw several booths selling cheese arepas, something I’d never seen before.   As it turns out, these are a native bread made out of cornmeal the size of a thick pancake, with cheese in between and warmed on a flat grill until all melted together.   The arepa are common in the cuisine of Venezuala and Columbia. It’s similar to the Mexican gordita, and the Salvadoran pupusa.     A version of the pupusa is also served in Guatemala, but it’s more like a stuffed corn pie than a sandwich of two areapas.   If it were deep fried or pan fried it might be similar to the empanada.   It’s basically a fried cornbread carrier for a filling.

The arepa can be topped or stuffed with meat, eggs, tomatoes, salad, cheese, shrimp or fish depending on the meal.   Breakfast egg, especially a Caribbean type of scramble egg, called perico, or cheese, are the most common arepa fillings.   A typical breakfast in Bogota, Colombia, consists of an arepa and hot chocolate.   And there are many recipes for meat fillings using ingredients  from crispy pork skin to school shark.

The arepa comes from the indigenous peoples that lived in the Northern Andes mountains of Venezuela. Other Amer-Indian tribes like the Arawaks and Caribs, widely ate an arepa-like food called casabas made from yucca.   With the colonization of the region by the Spanish conquistadores, the arepa-like form spread into the rest of the region –including Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.     The word arepa comes from the word ‘erepa’, which means corn bread in the indigenous language of the natives of Venezuela and Colombia.

These arepas sold in Louisville were about 8 inches in diameter and with the cheese in between looked like they were about 2” thick.   They smelled great, and I’m sure tasted wonderful, but looked like they packed enough calories to fuel  a full day of picking coffee beans or cutting sugar cane, neither of which I planned to do.   So, I stayed with my double barrel Woodstone cocktail and crabcake.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before we start seeing these at street festivals in Cincinnati, and what kind of variations they start taking, given the local ingredients available.   However long it takes, it was good to see an ancient Latin American streetfood making its way into the gringo mainstream of the Midwest.

Me, the Baroness, and a Few of Our Favorite Things

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I was introduced to my favorite dessert in college at a coffeehouse called Café Vienna in the Mt. Adams hill neighborhood of Cincinnati.   When I was in college, the late night coffeehouse scene was thriving.   After a night of dancing or partying on campus we’d chill down at a coffee house, trying to solve all the world’s problems over coffee drinks and a sweet gnosh.   There were several other coffeehouses in the area – Highland in Clifton was a legacy, as were several others in the gaslight district of Clifton.   But none had the wonderful Linzertorte that Café Vienna had. It was love at first bite.

The rich, crunchy torte dough of ground nuts, spiced with clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, and the tangy-sweet taste of currant and raspberry jelly, was a symphony of flavors in my mouth.   Apparently currents grow like weeds around Linz.   Each subtle layer of flavor was like another instrument section to my taste buds.

Austria is well-known for its chocolate Sachertorte, but to me there is only one torte worth having and that’s the one from Linz. The Linzer torte is actually said to be the first written torte recipe in the world.   The state library in Vienna has a recipe from 1696. But more recently an archivist found a recipe dating from 1653 in the archive of Admont Abbey, 50 miles from the Austrian Alps.   Named after the capital of Upper Austria, Linz, the torte was made popular in 1822 by a Franconian baker Johann Konrad Vogel.   He began working for a widowed confectioner, Katherina Kress, whom he married the next year. Vogel began baking the Linzer torte in high volume and established them as souvenirs to tourists visiting Austria.    A torte is actually a type of cake, but unlike a cake it uses a small amount of flour and more ground nuts, like almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts in the dough, making it a heavier, richer dough than a cake.    Some versions use only currant jelly, or instead use apricot jelly, but I’m a purist for the original mix of current and raspberry.

Sadly, Café Vienna closed the year I graduated college, and their wonderful Linzertorte became a thing of memory.   I searched far and wide for another supplier.     An upscale bakery called the Bonbonnerie had Linzer cookies that were good, but they weren’t the same as a warm slice of Linzertorte.   So I had to take matters into my own hands and find and perfect a recipe to make Linzertorte myself.

I stumbled upon the recipe of the pastry chef, Marshall Faye, of the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. Yes, that’s the same Maria von Trapp from the Sound of Music.    Apparently she and I share a few of our favorite things.   In 1941, the real singing Von Trapp family settled in Stowe, Vermont, and opened a 93 room, 100-chalet resort that was once the humble home of Baron Georg, Maria, and the kids.   Sam von Trapp, son of Johannes, the baby of the family, now runs the resort. And, as expected, there are sing-alongs, sleigh rides, schnitzel, and sauerbraten.

I have made this recipe many times for family and friends.   Aside from my own taste bud approval, I know that it’s a great recipe, because it gained the approval of my grandmother, who ran a bakery with my grandfather for over thirty years. So I’d like to thank the Baroness for bringing Linzertorte back to me, by posting the recipe.

The only thing I’ve changed is I substitute finely ground hazelnuts for the walnuts.   To me the hazelnuts gives it a more European flavor. Von Trapp Lodge Linzertorte 1-1/2 cups of flour ¼ tsp ground cinnamon ¼ tsp ground nutmeg 1/8 tsp ground cloves ¾ cup finely ground hazelnuts 12 tsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature ¾ cup of sugar 1 egg 1/3 cup red currant jelly 1/3 cup raspberry jam 2 tbsp sliced almonds Confectioners’ sugar

  • Combine flour, spices and nuts together in a bowl. Mix well and set aside
  • Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is fluffy. Beat in egg, reduce speed and add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined (dough will be soft and sticky)
  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom.    Flour your hands and press half of the dough in bottom of pan.  Press up the sides of the pan.  Take remaining dough and make 6 balls.  Set aside
  • Combine the jelly and jam in a bowl, mix well and spoon into crust. With floured hands, roll out the remaining balls of dough on a lightly floured surface until each is 9” long. Crisscross strips of dough over filling (three strips each way), pinch side and top crusts together and sprinkle with sliced almonds.   Bake until crust is golden brown, 30 minutes and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Mochi, Mochi!

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I am a huge fan of Japanase cuisine.   Good sushi is like a religious experience for me, and who doesn’t like tempura.   The Japanese certainly understand how to begin and end a meal elegantly and how to play with flavors and presentation.  As I’ve visited Japan on business trips, I’ve also found green tea kit-kats which are a great delicacy.   There’s something about integrating green tea into a crunchy creamy snack cookie.

Sushi and tempura have found it to America, but not the green tea kit-kats. A few years ago I was introduced to another dessert – this one invented by a Japanese-American woman in the 1990s.  I was celebrating my birthday away from home, while working a trade show in Chicago.  My consolation from being away from home was dinner at my favorite sushi restaurants in the world, Oysy Sushi,  on Michigan Avenue, which unfortunately closed last year.   So, after a fabulous sushi dinner, I wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth and decided to try something on the menu I’d never heard of called a green tea mochi sundae.

Mochi is a Japanese dessert that’s been around a long time made of pounded sweet rice that’s a chewy, ooey gooey, rice cake. Frances Hashimoto, an influential leader in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood invented this now popular fusion dessert by wrapping ice cream in mochi and calling it mochi ice cream.  It turns out to be  a delicious ice cream sandwich in a perfect size for topping a wonderful dinner. Like everything Japanese it’s a neat little size that won’t melt all over you like a traditional American ice cream sandwich.

Hashimoto fought to preserve her Los Angeles neighborhood’s cultural traditions.   Herself, born in a World War II interment camp (Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona) in 1943, she created a brand Mikawaya USA, that broke out of the ethnic food niche and is widely carried by Trader Joes, Albertsons, Ralph’s and Safeway.  Why does it seem that all good food comes from cultural adversity!   Trader Joe’s carries a pumpkin flavor mochi ice cream for the holiday season. Her family’s Mikawaya store was started by her great uncle, Ryuzabaro Hashimoto, in 1910 in the heart of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district.   They served traditional Japanese confectionaries to the Japanese immigrant communities of southern California.   Frances took over the business in 1970 and turned it into an empire, with a popular brand of mochi ice cream and five retail locations.

The Mikawaya mochi now comes in an assortment of several flavors:  Green tea, matcha green tea, mango, mint chip, red bean, black sesame, strawberry, plum wine, cookies and cream, kona coffee, vanilla,  and chocolate. I’ve only tasted the green tea, but I’m sure all the other flavors are just as good.

Perfectly sized, mochi are an elegant and chewy, creamy and delicious Japanese-American treat!

Oven Innovation Creates Matzo for All – AND Makes Matzo Square!

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As a product manager who manages a line of commercial ovens, I have a soft spot for stories of innovation that open new markets.   The funny thing is that conveyor ovens are all the rage now, especially in pizza food service.   Consistency and efficiency are making conveyor oven baked pizza a chipotle-like enterprise.   You can pick your toppings and load it into a conveyor oven and in minutes have hot fresh ready pizza.   But conveyor ovens have been around since the late 1800s.   And, such is the story behind the Manischewitz Matzo Empire.

The matzo cracker might seem simple to the naked shiksha eye.   But the laws of kosher have made it complicated.     Among a host of other regulations, matzo dough must not be allowed to rise, so the entire process must be able to be completed in under 18 minutes. Now in antebellum America, 18 minutes from mix to bake was considered fast food.   Before the mid 19th century matzo was baked in synagogues with ovens specifically designed for that purpose. But, after the mid 19th century, indie bakeries started making matzo.   Matzo making machines were designed to make the process more efficient.   But to many Jews, the new processes were not in line with kosher law. So, to the faithful, matzo was a luxury only the wealthy could afford.

That changed about a century ago when Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz started baking matzo in Cincinnati in 1889.   He designed and patented a machine that cut and baked matzo in uniform squares and packaged in shippable boxes.   This made matzo an essential staple for the common Jew.   And, this is probably around the time matzo soup, the Jewish penicillin, became the staple of Hebrew cooking.

Behr Manischewitz came to Cincinnati in 1885 with his wife, Nesha, and three small children to serve as a kosher butcher for a group of Orthodox Jews from his hometown in Lithuania.     By the turn of the 19th century, the Queen city was a mecca of Reform Judaism, with our Hebrew Union College in Clifton, a community made up of mostly German Jews of means.   The last quarter of the 19th century saw an influx of poor Eastern European Jews who were more orthodox in their Judaism.   They didn’t assimilate with the German Jews, spoke Yiddish, and created their own community of schools, synagogues and social clubs in Cincinnati.

The Manischewitz family grew to eight children and they settled in the tenement cramped West End, the epicenter of the Cincinnati Jewish community.   As a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, Behr would have been responsible for the gangly job of preparing cattle and sheep for consumption to kosher law.   He wrote to his parents in Lithuania in April 1887 that he and his wife spent Pesach very pleasantly, even though it was hard with small children to do without chametz, or any foods with leavened grains.   Behr saw an opportunity in this and the next hear he started baking matzo.

By 1889 ads for Manischewitz matzo were appearing in The American Israelite, offering the “kosherest of matzos, matzo meal.”   Three years later he announced in an ad, “new matzos machines whereby this year’s matzos will be most beautiful to behold and most palatable to the taste.”   In ten years Behr bought his competitor, Bing Bakery, around the corner from his West 6th Street baker.   Every year he would bake earlier, and when he had hired the eligible Orthodox men, he’d hire elderly orthodox women, because childbearing women couldn’t work in kosher food facilities.

Behr’s 1911 patent for a conveyor belt sandwiched between upper and lower heating elements indicates his spirit of creativity and innovation, despite his conservative Orthodoxy.  This allowed Manischevitz to produce more, better, and cheaper matzo than ever before.   The square crackers were considered top quality and marketed as a luxury item, coming in a wooden box.

Being able to ship around the country and internationally helped him grow the business. In 1913 he opened a second bakery in West 8th street in Lower Price hill, adding capacity to the existing bakery on West 6th Street.     The family moved to Walnut hills to rub elbows with the Fleishmann family and other rich Jews.

When Behr died in 1914 his will stipulated his five sons take over the business, and that the unwed son, Meyer, wed an orthodox woman to receive his full share.   His daughters were also only able to receive their $12,000 share if they wed an Orthodox man.   One tenth of the profits went to charity – 60% to Palestine and 40% to local charities.

The company grew and grew, and when East Coast customers dominated the demand, they opened a bakery in New Jersey in 1932 and moved their headquarters there in the 1950s.     One by one the Manischewitz family moved to the New York area, except Howard, who oversaw the Lower Price Hill factory until its closing in 1958.   The family sold the company in 1990 to Kohlberg & Co. for $42.5 million, at the time controlling 80% of the world matzo market.

Only the Price Hill plant is standing today of all the buildings the Manischewitz family owned. In a corner of the Covedale Cemetery in Western Hills is Behr’s final resting place.   On his tombstone, in Hebrew: “Distinguished among ten thousand, and a man among men… the heavens on high will tell; What this righteous man for all ages has accomplished.”   Quite an epitaph for the man who made matzo square.

Meet Pruttles: The Kansas Volga-German Version of Goetta

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I recently heard of a product called Pruttles from Dan Glier, popular in Central Kansas counties of Ellis, Rush, and Russell.      There’s not a huge amount of information available online about it, but it’s clear that it has been around for many generations in the Volga German population of Central Kansas.   Unlike the northern Germans from Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, and Westphalia/Hanover who settled Cincinnati and made goetta, the Volga Germans came from south Germany.

Volga Germans refers to the Germans who moved from Bavaria to Russia after Katherine the Great of Russia invited them to settle the uninhabited lands of her kingdom around the Black Sea and the Volga River in 1763. Katherine offered them freedom from taxes, a loan for the move, and exemption from military service.   Weary from the Seven Years War in Europe, this was a great deal for these Germans. So about 25,000 ethnic Bavarians migrated into Russia and for the next 100 plus years lived in relative isolation from the German homeland and their Russian neighbors. That was until Czar Alexander in 1875 revoked their exemption from military service.   This prompted the same group to migrate to Kansas where land was cheap.

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This isolation of the group probably made them very frugal, waste-not people, and thus they developed a similar ‘slaughter sausage’ to many other German groups that extended off cuts of meat with oatmeal or other grains.   They brought this dish to America with them and called it pruttles. In Dutch and some German dialects the verb prutteln means to simmer.   Pruttles, after being cooked and formed in pans, is sliced, and simmered in butter in a pan to a golden crispy slice, just like our goetta.

Although it shows up in Kansas cookbooks, and is eaten in both the Volga German areas of Kansas, and Nebraska, it’s not commercially manufactured on a large scale like Glier’s Meats and goetta.    There is one meat locker in Kensington, Kansas, that is famous for always having a supply of good pruttles.

The only difference between pruttles and goetta is that pruttles uses rolled oats (the whole oat, with the husk (bran) removed), while goetta uses steel cut oats (oats cut in slices with the husk (bran) intact.   There isn’t really a noticeable texture difference, but when you cook each, only goetta will occasionally ‘pop’ out of their husk, like mini-popcorn.  It’s like a natural temperature sensor that alarms you when the pan heat is too high for goetta.    Pruttles doesn’t have this, so it takes much more care to cook properly – thus the term simmer, or cook over low heat.

Pruttles are only spiced with salt and pepper, and the meat is always ground, but many Kansas cookbooks recognize when allspice is added, it’s called knipp, the northern German version of goetta.     It’s typically served with Karo or maple syrup over toast, and never with grape jelly or ketchup like Cincinnati goetta.  It seems that the goetta-like grain sausages who use a higher ratio of grain to meat use a sweet topping like syrup or jelly, while the ones like goetta that use a higher ration of meat to grain, use a savory meat topping like mustard or ketchup.

Wonder if Aunty Em had a pruttles recipe that Dorothy loved to eat for breakfast?