Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

The first time I had this I knew I would never again make sweet potatoes topped with gunky marshmallows. The apples sweeten the potatoes just right. Great with pork and ham. And, of course, turkey. This recipe is easily doubled.

Serves 4


  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 3/4 cups thinly-sliced apples (about 2)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water or apple water



Cover and cook the potatoes in salted, boiling water until they are nearly done. You will know this when you insert the prongs of a meat fork into the potato and it goes no more than half way then stops.

Drain and rinse under cold water to stop some of the cooking. Return to pan to cool more and proceed with apples.

Peel apples and slice. Don’t bother to core the apple, just begin making slices all around it until you reach the core. I like to use one Golden Delicious and any other variety. Just make sure they are of equal density or crispness. If soft, make the slice large.

In a small frying pan, add a bit of water, add the apples and cook until they just begin to get soft.

Butter a 1.5-quart dish.

Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Layer the potatoes with the apples, sprinkling each layer with a bit of brown sugar and dotting with butter. Pour the apple water or water over them. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 45-60 minutes. Can be made one day ahead and then re-heated in the oven.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating Our Way into a Depression

by Gary T. Czerwinski

I feel like it’s “back to the future” and 1976 all over again. That’s when I got my first teaching job in a small rural school in Indiana. The pay? $8,000.00. Even then, it wasn’t much and I learned how to scrimp to get by. State law mandated one had to get a Master's Degree within five years, so there was the added burden of paying tuition, night classes, and lots of travel in old cars. I learned to ration hot dogs and made lots of pancakes. But things got better.

 According to a recent New York Times article, the makers of SPAM, “the canned wonder meat” by Hormel, can’t make it fast enough. They are working around the clock, literally, to keep up with growing consumer demand. Ground meat sales are up because people can’t afford the continually-rising price of more expensive cuts of beef. And that includes chicken. 

Other foods suddenly in demand: pancake mixes along with Jell-O, dried beans and rices, boxed mashed potatoes (all belly fillers). Many name brands, especially cookies, can’t compete with cheaper, generic brands. Sales of paper towels are down along with socks. What’s a hole or two if no one sees? But McDonalds’ sales are up. A burger, fries and Coke beat a twenty-dollar dinner in this economy. 

So when I saw a sale on hot dogs at the supermarket, I grabbed several packages and it was déjà vu. I was 24-years-old again. You can do a lot with hot dogs (recipe follows). I’m pinching pennies like I did 32 years ago. 

Still, I don’t have it as bad as families who are actually doling out their children to relatives like during the Great Depression because the family house has been foreclosed and there’s no work. I keep thinking of “The Waltons.” It was sappy but popular and could make a great comeback. Everyone pitching in, moving in together, to make ends meet. FDR’s optimism and strength during the Great Depression. In case you haven’t heard, FDR is the new Reagan.

It’s difficult to imagine that the American Dream of owning a home was responsible for this current nightmare of ruining economies across the globe. But it’s true.


We can point and wag fingers of blame at banks, lending institutions, Washington, Wall Street, fat cats. We can cite greed and ignorance, even stupidity, but it was always that promise of ownership, property, that drove it all.


It’s a peculiar, American phenomenon rooted in our whole history of Manifest Destiny, poor immigrants, peasants and serfs from Europe who worked other people’s property. They yearned for their own future that began with a farm. Displacing Native Americans was rationalized with audacious Biblical claim.


Even after the Civil War, freed slaves were promised their forty acres and a mule.


After World War II, the dream of home ownership took off like never before. Returning GI’s, with government-backed programs, staked their bungalow of freedom. Suburbia was born. My dad bought our first house for $5,000.00.


But some dreams can outlive themselves. And this may be one. Suburbia drained cities and small towns of precious resources and monies. Many still struggle and are boarded up. Interstate highways were built to move farther away. Precious lands were bulldozed. More cars built. Strip mall after strip mall. Carbon dioxide and ozone depletion. Ironically, they are still building.


We will get through this, but it will be tough. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the great “ownership society” has made us less free and lessened our options and opportunities. And 401k’s. Some hot dogs are just hard to swallow.



Hot Dogs and Pasta

If you can add a splash of dry white wine and chicken stock to the onion mixture, it's even better.

Serves two.

2-3 hot dogs
8 oz. dried linguine or spaghetti
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the pasta to cook.

Slice the hot dogs lengthwise down the center and then into fourths. Melt a bit of butter in a small pan and sauté the hot dogs until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Slice and dice the onion and garlic. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil to the pan you cooked the hot dogs in and sauté over medium heat until soft and just turning brown. Add a splash of dry white wine and stock. Allow to steam and cook down a bit.

Drain pasta well. Add the hot dogs and the onion mixture. Mix through.

Hint: Fill an ice cube tray with leftover chicken stock and freeze. When frozen remove and seal in a plastic bag. When needed, just remove a few to add to recipes for added flavor.

Hot Dogs and Pasta

If you can add a splash of dry white wine and chicken stock to the onion mixture, it's even better.

Serves two.

2-3 hot dogs
8 oz. dried linguine or spaghetti
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the pasta to cook.

Slice the hot dogs lengthwise down the center and then into fourths. Melt a bit of butter in a small pan and sauté the hot dogs until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Slice and dice the onion and garlic. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil to the pan you cooked the hot dogs in and sauté over medium heat until soft and just turning brown. Add a splash of dry white wine and stock. Allow to steam and cook down a bit.

Drain pasta well. Add the hot dogs and the onion mixture. Mix through.

Hint: Fill an ice cube tray with leftover chicken stock and freeze. When frozen remove and seal in a plastic bag. When needed, just remove a few to add to recipes for added flavor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pork with Sauerkraut, Onions and Mushrooms

Gary T. Czerwinski

Sauerkraut is a smell and taste I associate with my Grandmother. She made pork chops with it and spare ribs. I’m sure it had much to do with Grandpa’s German stock and my family’s own Eastern European heritage where cabbage is king.

This is the perfect autumnal dish. It easily serves two and the ingredients are inexpensive. The meat from a ham hock can be tough, so be sure to give it a good dice. Keep the mashed potatoes simple and on the thick side.

I use inexpensive “pork sizzlers.” Don’t use a pork chop—way too dry and thin. You want a kind of fatty pork with lots of flavor and on the thick side. I use an enamel-lined, cast-iron Dutch oven.

Serves 2-3

1 hefty cup cubed pork (a good 8 oz. or 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (4 oz)
1 cup peeled, diced Golden Delicious apple
1/2-3/4 cup freshly chopped button mushrooms, stems removed
1 8-ounce can plain sauerkraut
Garlic powder
Dried rubbed sage
Dry white wine
Canned chicken stock
1 smoked ham hock, rinsed

Preheat oven to 300-350.

Drain and squeeze the sauerkraut but save the can juices. Rinse it in a sieve under cold water. Squeeze dry.

Place the saved juice in a one-cup measuring cup. Add enough dry white wine to make 1/2 cup. Now add the chicken stock to make one cup.

Sautee the onions and mushrooms in a small pan with a bit of butter and olive oil until they soften and the mushrooms begin to give up their juices. Remove from heat and save.

Dust the cubed pork with a bit of garlic powder and the rubbed sage. In a small, heavy Dutch oven, melt a bit of butter and olive oil. Add the cubed pork and cook until it begins to brown. Add the chopped apples and stir. Add the onion and mushrooms. Stir. Now add the drained sauerkraut. Stir. Add the one-cup of liquid and the ham hock. Stir, cover, and bring to a slow simmer. Season with a bit of pepper. The ham hock and chicken stock will give it all the salt it needs.

Remove from heat and place in oven. Slow cook for about 1 hour. Periodically uncover and check to see that it doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the sauerkraut to brown. If necessary, add a bit more stock or water.

When done, remove the ham hock to plate or board to cool. Prepare the potatoes. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, remove as much meat as possible from it (there won’t be a lot). Finely dice, return to the Dutch oven and stir.

To serve, place a mound of potatoes in the middle of a plate and spoon the sauerkraut/pork mixture on top. This is even better re-heated the next day. Great peasant food!

Note: I have not doubled this recipe and if you do, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid.