With cooler autumn weather, menus lean toward richly layered comfort food

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

On Oct. 12, 1810, Prince Ludwig of Bavaria wed Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and invited all the citizens of Munich to attend the royal nuptials on the fields in front of the city gates. Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the end of the festivities. The decision to repeat the horse races the following year as a celebration of the anniversary of the event led to the tradition of Oktoberfest.

In 1811, an agricultural show was added to the itinerary, and, by 1818, a carousel, swings and several small beer stands were among the attractions. Then, in 1896, many of the beer stands were replaced by beer tents and halls. The festival continued to grow each year, interrupted only briefly by wars and disease epidemics.

This year marks the 180 th Oktoberfest, the largest festival in the world. Oktoberfest still takes place in Munich and runs from the third week of September through the first Sunday in October.

Host your own Oktoberfest event with a seasonal, locally harvested menu that includes some twists on a few German-American favorites. Pumpkins, gourds and a few brilliantly colored autumn leaves are perfect decorations to create a fall-theme table or room.

Mulled wine, warm apple cider and a nice selection of delectable seasonal beers will round out your menu or event perfectly.

Olga Watkins is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Beer-Braised Beef With Root Vegetables

This recipe is as close to auto-pilot as a cook can get. You can prepare this 4 to 8 hours ahead of your serving time. After you get it into the oven, you're done. To prepare this dish, I used an 8-quart cast-iron enameled stock pot with a lid.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

14 cup flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3-pound piece of chuck roast

2 cups carrots, cut into large pieces

2 turnips, peeled and quartered

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large pieces

2 white onions, peeled and quartered

2 cups Brussels sprouts

3 bottles dark beer of your choosing

Rustic bread, cornmeal mush, mashed potatoes or rice, for serving

Heat the over to 300 degrees.

Heat the oil in the pan on the stove top on medium heat. Season the flour with salt and pepper, dredge the roast in the flour, covering all sides of the roast. Turn the heat up to medium-high and sear the meat on all sides.

After the meat is seared, turn off the burner, add all of the vegetables and the beer then season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover the pot with the lid and cook in the oven. After 2 hours, remove the lid and use a long-handled spoon to ensure that all of the vegetables are in the braising liquid. Cover again and continue to cook for an additional 2 hours. Turn the heat down to 200 and hold the roast in the oven until you are ready to serve, or up to an additional 4 hours.

Serve with rustic bread, cornmeal mush, mashed potatoes or rice.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Schnitzel With Ginger-Apple Butternut Squash

Vegetable oil, enough to cover the base of a large frying pan 14-inch deep

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

1 small white onion, finely diced

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 12 to 3 cups cooked butternut squash

2 tablespoons grated gingerroot

For the schnitzel:

1 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 large eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water

1 12 cups cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika

4-6 boneless pork chops, pounded thin, fat removed

Fresh flatleaf parsley, for garnish

1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

Heat the vegetable oil for the pork on medium-low heat while you make the sauce.

For the sauce: In a separate pan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat. Add the onion, apple and lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper and saute for about 2 minutes, or just until the onions and apples begin to caramelize. Add the squash and gingerroot, another pinch of salt and pepper and saute for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pan and allow the sauce to cool while you cook the pork.

For the schnitzel: Heat the oven to its warm setting.

Place one bowl with the seasoned flour, one bowl with the egg wash and one bowl with the seasoned cornmeal next to the cooktop. Turn the heat up to medium-high to high under the pork frying pan.

Dredge each pork chop, one at a time, in the flour, then in the egg wash then press each into the cornmeal. Shake excess cornmeal off of the pork chops and place them in the hot oil. Cook each piece of pork schnitzel for about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking pan and hold in a warm oven until all of the pork is cooked and the sauce is finished.

When the squash and apple mixture has cooled, transfer all of it to a food processor or blender and puree. Plate a piece of schnitzel on a small mound ( 13 cup) of the squash puree and garnish with the fresh parsley and a lemon wedge.

Makes 6 servings.

Brown Sugar Bacon-Wrapped Brats

You can serve the bratwurst whole as an entree or sliced in bite-size pieces as an appetizer.

1 pound bacon, regular sliced

12 cup firmly packed light- or dark-brown sugar

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 fresh, raw bratwurst

12 cup water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the bacon slices flat on a cookie sheet, side by side so the slices aren't overlapping. Cook the bacon for 8 minutes. As soon as the bacon is removed from the oven, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over each slice and set aside.

In a large frying pan with a matching lid, heat the oil on medium heat. With the lid off, add the bratwurst to the pan, browning on all sides. Turn the heat up to medium-high, carefully add the water to the pan and immediately cover it with the lid. Cook the bratwurst for about 4 minutes, then turn them once, cover the pan again and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bratwurst from the heat and allow it to cool enough to handle.

When the bratwurst is cool, wrap each piece with 2 pieces of bacon with the brown sugar on the inside touching the bratwurst. Turn the heat down to 300 and cook the bacon-wrapped bratwurst in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp. Serve warm.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Pickled Beets and Red Cabbage

This will keep in the refrigerator for 14 days without the eggs, 7 days with the eggs.

4 cups apple-cider vinegar

4 cups sugar

2 small white onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 large beets, peeled, halved and sliced into 14-inch slices

1 small red cabbage, thinly sliced

4-8 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

2 teaspoons celery seed

6-8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, optional

In a large stockpot, slowly heat the vinegar and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the onions, beets, cabbage, water and seasonings to the pot and bring it to a boil. Boil for 6 to 8 minutes.

If you're going to add the eggs, do so during the last few minutes of boiling. Cool to room temperature first, then cool in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes 8 to 16 servings as a side dish or condiment.

Creamy Potato Soup With Bacon, Caramelized Onions and Horseradish

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 large yam, peeled and quartered



12 pound bacon, diced

2 small white onions, halved and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 quart whole milk

12 cup grated horseradish

4-6 cups reserved potato water

Sliced green onions, for garnish

Cook all of the potatoes in boiling, salted water until soft. Drain the potatoes, reserving 4 to 6 cups of the potato water. Render the bacon in an 8- to 12-quart heavy-gauge stockpot on medium heat. Remove the cooked bacon from the pan, reserving the bacon fat.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the onions. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook the onions until they are brown.

Turn heat back down to medium-low and add the potatoes, milk, potato water and more salt and pepper. Gradually heat the milk and water until hot. When the liquid is hot, add more salt and pepper, if desired, and the horseradish. Use a potato masher to carefully break the potatoes into tiny pieces. Then, use an immersion blender to make the soup smooth and creamy.

After you've blended the soup, add the rendered bacon back into the pot. Serve hot, garnished with sliced green onions.

Makes 8 servings.

Gingerbread and Pumpkin Trifle

All three of the trifle components can be made in advance and assembled before service.

For the gingerbread cake:

34 cup boiling water

1 stick butter

34 cup dark molasses

2 tablespoons grated gingerroot

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 12 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 tablespoons pumpkin-pie spice

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, beaten

Nonstick cooking spray

For the pumpkin pudding :

1 can pumpkin

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

12 cup honey

13 cup white sugar

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

3 large eggs, beaten

12 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch salt

For the cream-cheese mixture:

8 ounces cream cheese

12 cup confectioners' sugar

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Garnish: Freshly grated nutmeg, optional

To prepare the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the water and the butter together until the butter melts, then whisk in the molasses. Add the gingerroot and the vanilla and keep the mixture warm until it is needed. Mix the flour, baking soda, pumpkin-pie spice and sugar together. Using an electric mixer on low, gradually add the warm butter and molasses mixture. Finally, add the egg and beat the cake batter for several minutes on medium speed until it is very smooth. Coat a 9-inch-by-9-inch pan with cooking spray, and bake the cake for 35 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool before making the trifle.

To prepare the pudding: Use an electric mixer to combine all of the ingredients and mix on medium speed until smooth. Heat the mixture on low heat on the cooktop in a heavy-gauge saucepan, stirring occasionally. The sauce will bubble gently and slightly lighten in color when it is done, in approximately 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool in the refrigerator before adding it to the trifle.

To prepare the cream-cheese mixture: Let the cream cheese soften to room temperature, then whip the cream cheese with an electric mixer on high speed. Lower the speed and gradually add the sugar then the cream or milk and the vanilla. Return the mixer to high speed for about one minute until the mixture is very smooth. Store it in the refrigerator if you're not using it right away. Allow the mixture to get to room temperature just before assembling the trifle.

To assemble the trifle:

Alternately layer the cream-cheese mix, gingerbread cake and pumpkin pudding in a clear glass bowl or dessert-appropriate container until it's layered to the top of the serving piece. Chill for 1 to 24 hours before serving. Set out at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes just before serving. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

German Cheese Plate

Nothing rounds out an event or dinner menu like a cheese course. I served these German cheeses with mini-pumpernickel bread slices, farm-stand apple butter, a hot mustard and honey mustard. The pickled cabbage will also work well with a cheese course. All of these cheeses are available at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District. I recommend serving all of these with a sparkling semi-dry wine, a light, crisp hard apple cider or a good riesling.

Beerkasa: This is a semi-hard, seven-month aged cow's milk cheese that is lightly salted and slightly pungent. It is often dipped in beer as a snack.

Butterkasa: This cheese is semi-soft, rich and mild. It's perfect for melting and, as the name suggests, tastes very much like butter. This would make an amazing grilled-cheese sandwich.

Combozola: This is a triple cream, soft, ripened cheese that is something of a cross between brie and Roquefort without the pungency of Roquefort. It works beautifully with sweet accompaniments, like apple butter or fruit.

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