A heaping portion of cultural understanding


For 48 years, the German-American Festival has been promoting cultural understanding, primarily through the twin prisms of food and beer.

To truly get to know life in a distant land, you have to eat the food and drink the beer. Which the 34,000 people who headed out to Oak Shade Grove in Oregon last weekend did in spades.

We are talking here about 5½ tons — that’s 11,000 pounds — of potatoes consumed in the form of pancakes, french fries, and German potato salad. We’re talking 9,500 bratwurst and 920 barrels and cases of beer. We’re talking 275 gallons of sauerkraut. We’re talking 6,000 pretzels and 5,000 pairs of Landjäger.

We’re talking a relatively paltry 1,200 handmade cookies. C’mon, people! They’re handmade cookies. You can do better than that.

Of course, at such an event some people eat more than others. Jeff Ward and Kevin Gross both ate 1½ pounds of Swiss cheese — and a shot of prune juice — in 1 minute and 50 seconds. So they had to endure an eat-off of another 1/3 pound block of cheese and another shot of prune juice, with Mr. Ward ending up the winner in a time of 1 minute and 33 seconds. Mr. Gross came in second, followed by Amanda Harpel, Rob Shields, and Nathaniel Diekman.

But the festival is not just about eating. It is also about cooking. This year’s category in the German baking contest was Kuchen, which are cakes. Tina Beamer took first place for her Black Forest Cupcakes, second place went to Renée Thomas for her Plum Kuchen, while Matt Freimark took third place with his Apfel Kuchen.

Incidentally, Joe Bronowski hoisted a 138-pound stone over his head and hurled it 12 feet 4½ inches. That has nothing to do with cooking or eating, but we can’t help being impressed.

L’shana tova

Happy New Year!

Break out the champagne and the funny hats, and get ready to say goodbye to the year 5774.

According to the Jewish calendar, the year 5775 begins at sundown on Friday. The momentous event is traditionally marked with prayer, the blowing of a shofar — a ram’s horn — and a snack of apples dipped in honey to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year.

And because man cannot live by apples and honey alone, a big meal is sometimes part of the celebration. Often, it is brisket or chicken. But the folks at Manischewitz suggest switching things up this year with an osso buco. They even suggest a recipe for it, viz:

Beef Osso Buco

5-7 beef shanks (beef shank with bone, cut 1½-2 inches thick)

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


1 large onion, diced

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon crushed thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon dried parsley

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 large carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

½ cup dry white wine

1 (14-ounce) can kosher beef broth

Season beef shanks on both sides with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Heat 3 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan sear beef on each side, 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Lower heat to medium and add a little more olive oil. Add the onions and all the spices. Mix well, scraping the bottom of the pot for all the good brown bits. Sauté 4 minutes, then add carrots and celery. After 2 minutes, add wine and beef broth. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Return beef to skillet. The level of cooking liquid should always be about ¾ the way up the beef shank. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours, adding stock if liquid level gets low.

Serve atop a bed of risotto, couscous, or polenta with the cooking liquid poured on top. Be sure to check on beef mid way. If liquid is low, you may need to add some more broth. This recipe works best if the vegetables are prepared in advance.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Source: Manischewitz

Cooking classes

With the school year beginning or begun, the folks at Williams-Sonoma know that time can be short to make dinner. So if you hurry up — it starts at 11 a.m. today — you can catch a free class at the store about quick recipes you can make in advance and heat up at night.

But that is only one of five techniques courses the store is offering for free in the month of September (all begin at 11 a.m.). Next Sunday, Sept. 8, they will give tips for cooking with cast-iron pans and pots. On Sept. 15, they will demonstrate all-important knife skills (and they will sharpen one knife per customer for free; all others will cost $5).

Pressure cooker cookery will be featured on Sept. 22, while the Sept. 29 class will show the benefits of using a way-cool but way-expensive Vitamix blender.

This month’s cookbook club will be at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, and will feature the unlikely pairing of southern and Italian cuisines. Four recipes will be prepared from the book Collards & Carbonara by Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman: boiled peanuts, romaine salad with pecorino vinaigrette and chicken skin, L’il Red Ed pizza, and ricotta cake with satsuma marmalade.

The cost is $75, which includes a tasting menu of the foods and a copy of the cookbook. And if you are wondering, boiled peanuts are an acquired taste.

Also at the store, Mary Blaisdell will cook up a meal based on recipes by Giada De Laurentiis (who will not be in attendance) at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 25. The family-style meal will include Italian Caesar salad, marinated zucchini and summer squash, linguine with chicken ragu, and chocolate pizza. The cost is $50.

The store is at Westfield Franklin Park mall, 5001 Monroe St. To register for any of the events, call 419-475-6368.

Items for Morsels may be submitted up to two weeks before an event to