Aunt Mary’s Breakfast Casserole

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I’m very, very excited to welcome my guest today. Emelyn Rude is a food writer and culinary historian. Her first book, Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird, was published last year by Pegasus Books. Tastes has been written up in Nature, the scientific journal, and has received great reviews from The Boston Globe and Kirkus, as well as mentions in The New York Times and on NPR.

While remarkable that Emelyn has already published a book, I actually came to know her name when Mayuk Sen of Food 52 wrote an article about a Kickstarter campaign started by a woman trying to fund a magazine focused on food history. Obviously right up my alley, I wanted to find out more about the magazine, and Emelyn herself.

First of all, I was very interested in how and why Emelyn got interested in food writing in the first place. “My career in food writing started when I took a class in college called ‘The History of Dietetics,'” she said, “which was essentially the history of what people did to be healthy. I think my first paper was an exploration of how the phrase “You are what you eat” changed throughout history, and I was hooked. How I got into more popular food writing was more of a pragmatic thing. After I graduated from college, I started working for restaurant groups and was barely scraping by. I noticed a job posting by VICE saying they were looking for freelance food writers, so I pitched a story and they took me on. The rest of the writing gigs grew from there.” Amazing.

This, of course, led me to ask why exactly she wanted to write a book about the history of eating chicken specifically. She told me, “The subject was actually the topic of my senior thesis, which was inspired both by that class on the history of dietetics and by the fact that I have never been a fan of eating chicken. (Ironic, I know!) I must say that the only thing more entertaining than chickens are people interacting with chickens, so it’s an oddly fascinating subject.”

Her love of food history and writing eventually led her to the idea of a food history magazine. Originally called “Repast,” Emelyn had to change the title because the same name was already used for a magazine published by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. “EATEN is a food history magazine intended for a popular audience. I personally love food history and really enjoy researching and writing articles in the field, but I noticed a certain divide in how food publications deal with culinary history. These kind of pieces either get highly academic in food studies journals or become kind of shallow for more popular mainstream glossies. But these stories are interesting and important, so I wanted to create a popular platform on which to share them. A few emails and a Kickstarter later, EATEN was born!”

Emelyn explained to me that the plan is for each volume of the magazine to have a theme. “EATEN Volume 1 is themed ‘The Food of the Gods.’ I am super excited about some of the articles we have lined up for this. Scholar Ken Albala wrote a very entertaining piece entitled ‘What Did Jesus Eat?’, butter historian Elain Khosrova wrote something on the ancient rite of Tibetan butter carving, a wonderful young woman in France named Alice Spasaro interviewed Trappist monks reviving ancient beer brewing traditions. Some exciting things!” When I asked Emelyn how she was able to get such talent to participate in the magazine, she said that she did the same thing I did to get her–she shot them an email. Sometimes it’s best just to ask!

I was so pleased when I reached out to Emelyn and she said she’d be happy to participate in a post and while we were chatting on the phone, Emelyn was already brainstorming a possible recipe that we could use. “My family doesn’t have too many recipes that we share and pass on. My mother is not a big cook and I don’t think my grandmother was either.” The casserole she chose is the exception. “I almost never eat cottage cheese but I enjoy it in this casserole. It is also one of the few recipes that I would call a ‘family recipe’ of ours.”

Food runs in the family, even if recipes don’t. “My mom may not have cooked all that often, but she was always interested in food. In fact, she met my dad when the pair of them were both getting their master’s in Agricultural Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She looked at food as more of a commodity and thing to trade while I have become more fascinated by the culinary aspect of things.”

The casserole that she chose was a recipe from her grandmother’s sister, Mary. “Mary was a military wife and had to do a whole lot of entertaining,” Emelyn told me. “This was one of her go-to brunch dishes when she had guests. It was absorbed by my side of the family the year that Aunt Mary’s husband was away in Vietnam. She spent Christmas that year with her sister (my grandmother’s) family and made this dish for Christmas breakfast. It was such a hit with everyone that it became a Christmas tradition.” In addition to Christmas, Emelyn said that it has also become a New Year’s tradition for her family.

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Aunt Mary’s Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients:
10 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups of cottage cheese
4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2 4 oz cans of green chiles

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs and add the cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, and chiles. Mix until fully combined.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the egg mixture and mix until fully combined.

Bake for 1 hour, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

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Keep in mind, this is a recipe to serve a crowd, but it’s easily halved for a smaller group. And I have to admit: Cottage cheese? Green chiles? I was skeptical. But after I made it I had to write Emelyn and tell her how good I thought it was. Her response was, “It’s kind of creepy, but weirdly delicious…” Emelyn says that for her the dish means “family and presents and holiday cheers and lots of hot sauce, English muffins, and orange juice to go along with it.”

If all goes well, Emelyn hopes to have the first volume of EATEN ready to ship on November 17th. If you’d like to pre-order the magazine, you can do that here. The plan right now is to release one volume quarterly.

In addition to the magazine, Emelyn also hopes to write more books in the future. “I definitely do intend to write more. I just have to find a subject worthy of all that effort!”

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your recipe, Emelyn!

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Cheddar (Beaver Dam) Pepper Scones with (Beaver Dam) Pepper Jelly

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It’s fall, y’all! WHERE is my life going? It’s been hard to identify that it’s fall now because, like many other places, we’ve had a heat wave for much of the last week here in Chicago. For the last few weeks, we have been spending our weekends going on as many day-trips as possible. A few weekends back, Alex and I and our friends, David and Quinn, road-tripped up to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and then back down through Milwaukee for tiki drinks. Beaver Dam is an adorable little town in Dodge County, Wisconsin, that has received a bit of attention the last few years because of the rise in popularity of its Beaver Dam Pepper.

Last month, I interviewed Jennifer Breckner, who is the chair of the Slow Food Midwest Ark of Taste Committee. I had so many things that I wanted to share about Jennifer, that I hardly had a chance to explain what the Midwest Ark of Taste actually is. According to their website, it is a “catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.” The work of the group involves identifying these varietals and championing them, by educating chefs and the public about them, growing them in the Slow Food garden, and using them as ingredients in the annual Farm Roast fundraiser. The motto of the group is “Eat it to save it.” I came across the Beaver Dam Pepper in the Ark’s catalog and instantly became interested in the history of this particular pepper.

Incredibly, the seeds of the Beaver Dam pepper were smuggled into the country from Hungary in 1912 by the Hussli family. They settled in Beaver Dam, and began growing the medium-hot peppers just as they had in Hungary. However, though they were loved by the Hussli’s and others in Beaver Dam, they were never necessarily sought-after.

The Beaver Dam Pepper finally got its moment in the sun when a German woman named Leah Green, living in Chicago, went in search of a farmer still growing the pepper. She found John Hendrickson of Stone Circle Farm in Reeseville, Wisconsin. He agreed to sell the few peppers that he was growing at the time. Green began using these specific peppers to make various products. Meanwhile in Beaver Dam, Diana Ogle, who runs a marketing and PR company, was looking for a way to promote a local shopping center and, after hearing about Beaver Dam Pepper celebrations springing up in Chicago and Milwaukee, thought it was time to bring the Beaver Dam Pepper Festival home. For one day in September, the local pepper is celebrated with a pepper chili cook-off, an apple pepper pie eating contest, and an apple pepper pancake and sausage breakfast. 2017 marked the fourth year of the Festival celebrating the history of Beaver Dam and its namesake pepper.

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We all had a great time and I bought two pounds of peppers, and decided to make cheddar pepper scones, as well as a pepper jelly to go with them (one of my favorite things!). I’ll be honest, this is really an overnight recipe. But! Once you’ve done all the work, it’s really just a quick egg wash and twenty minutes of baking and you’re in business. A perfect Sunday morning treat.

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Cheddar (Beaver Dam) Pepper Scones with (Beaver Dam) Pepper Jelly
Makes six large scones.

Ingredients:

For pepper jelly:
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp water
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large peppers (you can substitute poblano peppers if you don’t have any Beaver Dam peppers)
1 pouch unflavored gelatin

For scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk, very cold
1 egg, plus 1 egg for egg wash
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and still warm
2 tsp olive oil or unsalted butter
2 large peppers (you can substitute poblano peppers for Beaver Dam peppers), chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
Sea salt, optional

Instructions:

For pepper jelly:
Sterilize a 1 pint mason jar. (Here is an example of how to do this, if you’ve never done it before.)

In a food processor, combine the peppers and half of the vinegar. Process until the peppers are minced.

Add cold water to a small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over the top and allow to set for one minute. Turn on heat to medium and stir until gelatin is dissolved.

Add the pepper mixture, remaining vinegar, and sugar to the gelatin mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, while stirring constantly.

Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and refrigerate overnight to set.

For scones:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

In a glass measuring cup, add the egg and buttermilk and beat together. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

In a skillet, add the peppers and 2 tsp olive oil (butter may be substituted). Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to drain and cool on a paper towel.

Melt the butter. Remove the buttermilk egg mixture from the freezer. It should be very cold, but not frozen. Mix the butter into the buttermilk with a fork. You will see the butter begin to seize up into little globs. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together. Add the shredded cheddar and the peppers. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead once or twice to make sure everything comes together. The mixture should still be very shaggy.

Form the mixture into an 8-inch circle. Cut the circle into 6 even wedges. Wrap each wedge in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night, but not longer than 48 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove each wedge from the plastic wrap, place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Beat one egg and brush the top of each wedge thoroughly. If you wish, you can sprinkle each with a bit of sea salt.

Bake for 17-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Enjoy warm with a smear of pepper jelly!

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And, if you know of any other festivals like this one, celebrating a local fruit or vegetable, that you think is worth a visit, please let me know. My tentative plan for Summer 2018 is to go on one massive road trip, festival hopping. And if you haven’t checked out the Ark’s catalog, you should. Maybe you’re familiar with one of the items on the list. Maybe you’re even doing your part already and growing one of them in your back yard. What a cool kid you would be!

Thanks for the memories, Beaver Dam!

Erin Zieske’s Trash Rarebit

Erin Zieske

I believe that it’s best to have a well-rounded group of friends. I don’t mean a group every one of which can talk about politics and jazz and also architecture, because that actually sounds really awful. What I mean is, you need to sprinkle in some friends that may or may not get you arrested when you hang out with them. Maybe you need fewer of those getting-you-arrested friends as you get older, but you know what I’m saying. Then, you have those friends who you can really trust. When they tell you about a song, or a movie, or a drink, and say that you’ll like it, you do, and the world is at peace. I have a few friends like this and one of them is my friend Kevin, in New Orleans. For categorization, he is actually my husband’s friend, but I have adopted him as my own. It was Kevin who suggested that I reach out to Erin Zieske about collaborating on a post. Trusting him implicitly, I did. And I’m so glad I did.

I’ve never met Erin in person, but I’ve been following along with her cooking adventures on Instagram, where she regularly entices followers with her home-cooked creations. Erin is a graphic designer who lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, with her cat, Grady. Growing up in Lead, South Dakota, she spent a lot of time alone after school and  got interested in cooking and food after developing a childhood crush on Graham Kerr, host of PBS’ The Galloping Gourmet. She also wrote a cookbook, called Record Recipes, which is available for purchase.

For her contribution, Erin shared a recipe with me that may, truly, blow your mind. I can safely say that I have not featured anything like it on my blog before. She told me that she does know quite a bit about her family history, at least on her dad’s side, but that the recipes aren’t very exciting. Instead she chose a popular recipe that is featured in her cookbook: Trash Rarebit. It’s an updated version of the centuries-old Welsh Rarebit, which consists of toast smothered in a savory cheese sauce. In a bizarre twist, she learned years after developing this recipe that it was, unbeknownst to her, a variation on a recipe that her mom used to make her as a child, thus officially making it a family recipe! The dish features SPAM, Velveeta, cream of chicken soup… basically all of the crucial food groups. She has absolutely no idea where this recipe came from, but her mother does still have a handwritten card in her recipe box.

Trash Rarebit

 

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Trash Rarebit

Trash Rarebit Ingredients:
3.5 oz SPAM
2 oz Velveeta
3 oz Cream of Chicken Condensed Soup
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
½ tsp favorite Hot Sauce (like Crystal or Tabasco)
½ small white onion, minced

Trash Rarebit Instructions:
In a food processor, blend together everything but the onions until a consistent paste is achieved.
Fold in minced onion.
Spread on toast. (Erin suggests using sandwich bread with a fine crumb to avoid “goo loss”). Place in toaster oven and broil until brown and bubbly.

Per Erin: Any extra can be stored in a jar in the fridge for your next 3am craving.

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But back to the recipe: Dang, is it good. Like, makes me angry good. I had a little taste before smearing it on the bread to be broiled. (I hope that this is safe. I figured everything in it is shelf-stable, so eating it uncooked should be fine. Plus, maybe I’m shelf-stable now too!) I failed to follow Erin’s suggestion of using an organic cream of chicken soup, only because I had it handy, but! Next time! My best description of it would be “poor man’s pâté,” which my husband briefly made fun of me for, but then he tried it and I was vindicated. Salty, creamy, and rich. As Erin points out, it’s just a variation of basically what everyone is really looking for in a snack anyway: Bread and cheese.
Erin, thank you so much for sharing this recipe. My prediction is that everyone will be stocking their fridges with tiny jars of this SPAM/Velveeta concoction very soon. I know I will. And, readers, if you’re ever in Rapid City and notice a bright pink door on one of the houses, it just might be Erin’s. You should wave! But don’t knock. That’d be weird.
Happy eating, all!

Beer Cheddar Soup with Pretzel Croutons

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For our anniversary a few weekends ago, Alex and I spent a long weekend in Door County, Wisconsin. Have you been? It’s absolutely gorgeous. We kept trying to take pictures, and our biggest problem was literally not knowing where to point the camera. Do you take a picture of the tops of the trees that are a stunning electric yellow, orange, red, and purple? Or do you capture the white bark of the trunks of the birches? Even discounting the fall colors, the area is an embarrassment of riches. Let me summarize: We visited a county famous for cherries in one of the most beautiful little corners of a state famous for cheese. Let that sink in. It’s my own version of heaven. I’m shocked that we left willingly. We had big plans to ride horses, go on ghost tours, and drink cherry wine. We didn’t do any of those things. We just kept getting side-tracked by how pretty everything was and stopping on the side of the road to take pictures like true tourists, and then stopping at little farm shops to buy hot sausage links like true sausage lovers. Also, I very nearly reached my goal of eating 7,000 cheese curds over the course of our stay. I came in just shy.

The temperatures here in Chicago are bobbing up and down, refusing to decide between summer and fall. I can’t complain, though. A 75 degree day in the middle of October is fine by me. It’s such a beautiful time of year! But on the chilly days, which I hear will be here soon, you can warm up by making soup! Specifically soup that is full of cheese and beer. In honor of our little trip, I decided to try a recipe for a dish that I saw on a few menus throughout Door County–Beer Cheese Soup!

If you search for Beer Cheese Soup, you’ll find that it’s often labeled a “Midwestern Classic.” Well, I’ve lived in the Midwest almost my whole life and had never heard of this. Not surprisingly, I found, through a bit more research, that in this case “Midwestern” meant mostly the areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. (In Indiana and Illinois, I’m sure beer cheese soup is around, but we mostly still just *drink* beer.)

Beer and cheese are clearly two things that Wisconsin knows how to do. Beer soup, it turns out, has been around since Medieval times in Europe. (Tell me, will I ever learn how to spell Medieval correctly? I’m a student of history for heaven’s sake!) In Wisconsin, many settlers arriving in the 1800’s were German and Swiss, and they brought the skill of cheese-making with them. Likewise, the German settlers in Wisconsin have been brewing beer since at least the 1830’s.

I actually can’t really drink much beer anymore, because of my oldladyness. I have one and get a headache, and then I get cranky, and I just want a nap. Beer in soup, though, that I can drink. Or, eat…? Soup is such a silly gray area. For this recipe, Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar meets Chicago Blonde Ale for an indulgent, but surprisingly not too heavy, soup. And, I’ve included a recipe for making your own pretzel croutons to sprinkle on top!

Look, this soup is very easy to throw together. And, you certainly don’t have to make your own pretzels. If you don’t mind baking, though, they’re not difficult to make. Like most delicious things, they just take a little time.

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Beer Cheddar Soup with Pretzel Croutons

Beer Cheddar Soup Ingredients:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp butter
1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
½ medium onion, chopped finely
2 small/medium carrots, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 cup whole milk
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp paprika, optional
3 1/2 cups sharp cheddar
5 oz. blonde ale
1 egg yolk, optional
salt, to taste,
white pepper, to taste

Beer Cheddar Soup Instructions:

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large pan. Add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery. Sprinkle with tsp salt. Cook on medium heat until translucent, about 8-10 minutes.

Add garlic and continue cooking for about 2 minutes.

Add in 3 more tbsp butter, plus 4 tbsp flour. Mix until the flour seems to fully absorb the butter. Add in milk and continue to stir until the mixture becomes thick. Add in the chicken stock, one cup at a time, stirring in between additions, allowing the mixture to come to a slight boil and thicken again each time. It will not become as thick as it was before you added the broth.

Stir in the Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and the paprika. Allow to come to a slight boil again.

Turn heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the vegetables out of the mixture, and then return the liquid to the large pan. Add in the beer and allow to come to a slight boil again.

Turn the heat down again. Allow the mixture to stop boiling completely. Then begin adding in the shredded cheddar in small handfuls, stirring in completely after each handful. Do not allow the soup to come to a boil, as this will cause the cheese to clump together.

Once all the cheese has been added, remove the soup from heat and allow to sit for about 1-2 minutes. Whisk one egg yolk into the still-warm soup. (You want the soup to be hot enough to kill salmonella, but not hot enough to immediately scramble the egg. This step is optional, but it does make the soup a bit more full, colorful, and rich. Also, I’m an egg yolk fiend.)

Salt and pepper soup to taste and serve with pretzel croutons loaded up on top!

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Pretzel Crouton Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 package)
1 tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash, before baking)
For bath before baking:
1 cup baked baking soda (only 2/3 will be used, but it shrinks a bit as it bakes)
14 cups of water

Pretzel Crouton Instructions:
For bath: Spread baking soda on a baking sheet and bake for 2 hours at 250 degrees. Store in an airtight container. Note: Though it’s not dangerous, be careful when handling as it might irritate sensitive skin.

For bread: Combine yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add warm water and allow to sit for five minutes, until the mixture becomes foamy and bubbly.

Add in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a shaggy dough.
Turn out dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes, until it becomes smoother and begins to form a ball.

Wash out large bowl that you used and coat with 1 tbsp vegetable oil (or less, depending on the size of your bowl).

Put dough back into oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in size.

Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush on remaining vegetable oil.

When dough is ready, pour it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut it into 8-10 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a ball (for pretzel buns) and put onto the oiled baking sheets. Cover each baking sheet with a dishtowel and allow to rise for about 10 more minutes.

In a large pot, add 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baked baking soda. Bring to a boil, stirring until the baking soda is dissolved. Reduce heat slightly to a simmer.

Fill a large bowl with 4 cups of water, with a few ice cubes and place next to your cooking area.

Using a slotted spatula, carefully drop two to three pretzels into the simmering water-baking soda solution, allowing them to cook for about 45 seconds on each side. Flip them only once.

Remove each pretzel from the hot bath and then dip it into the second water bath, making sure to rinse each side, before returning it to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

The pretzels will look slightly puckered and the outside will develop a a bit of a soft shell. (This will bake into that beautiful brown crust of the pretzel).

Bake at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool to warm before serving.

Cut 3 or 4 of the roles into 1/2-in. cubes. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan and saute until browned. Season with salt and toss them onto your soup!

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This soup is so creamy and silky (no big globs of cheese in this soup!) and the flavors of beer and cheese go together so well. I saw that some folks like putting popcorn on top of their beer cheddar soup, which sounds like a super idea to me, especially if it’s handy and you don’t want to make your own pretzels.