A Moment From 100 Years Ago

A smiling, white-haired gentleman greets me and I give him the name of our party. “Oh, you’re having lunch with my good friends today. Welcome.” The dining room has plenty of dark wood, lit by stained glass and low lights. Nearly every bit of wall space has either a German artifact or a framed photo of a celebrity, some long forgotten, who enjoyed the authentic German cuisine at Karl Ratzsch’s some time over the last 111 years.

Karl ratzsch2

My friends arrive with excited greetings and hugs. They sit down and share their history with me. Their first date was at that table there, 45 years ago. The smiling gentleman who greeted me? He’s been a waiter here for 35 years. The owners, who took over from the Ratzsch family in 2003, have been working behind the bar and in the kitchen just as long. The conversation turns to dogs and gardens and confrontations with a raccoon in the yard. We decide to order.

The soup of the day is cream of mushroom. The every day soup is consommé with liver dumplings. It’s amazing; earthy, rich, unique. The spinach salad following has a hot bacon dressing that actually tastes “fresh”. That doesn’t sound right, but there isn’t the fatty mouth feel you can get with a hot bacon dressing yet all of the flavor. This is classic food, prepared in a way to remind you why it became classic. Then there is the sauerbraten. Oh dear heavens.

Karl Ratzsch

I’m a fan of sauerbraten. We’ve shared our recipe here. This version is fall-apart tender with an authentic gingersnap gravy, the meaty richness balanced by the tang of vinegar, cooked down together for hours. The accompanying red cabbage has the perfect texture and flavor. We’ve also shared our red cabbage recipe. Here is my advice, go eat at Karl Ratzsch’s if you can. Only try to make your own if you can’t get there. This is wonderful, wonderful food. I’m enjoying it with a Köstritzer Schwarzbier.

We continue to talk and enjoy the meal. A few other parties come in, a few parties leave. I feel like I’m eating in my great grandma’s living room, in the very best way. I feel like family. As we leave I take a moment to adjust to the afternoon sun. I look up to the clock on City Hall. It seems we were there for over two hours. It was a moment, a moment completely out of time, a moment from 100 years ago. This is history. This is inspiration.

Belgian Braised Beef

This deep, rich beef dish, is prepared with two cuts of beef, vegetables, mushrooms, and nut brown ale. To stick it closer to the Belgian tradition, perhaps a Duvel should be the choice, but we’re preparing it to our Great Lakes Cuisine standards, so a Great Lakes regional brew is the choice. We chose Ale Asylum’s Madtown Nutbrown Ale for the caramel malt flavors. As it is only currently available in Illinois and Wisconsin, you should drive to one of those state right now to get some.  If that is not an option, consider a malty, amber beer, while avoiding a strong hop character because as the beer cooks down, an over-powering hop flavor may present as bitter in the final dish. It may not as well as each beer reacts a bit differently to the fats and cooking times, but we’re cooking a fair amount of beef here so be selective.

Belgian Braised Beef1

Belgian Braised Beef
½ cup canola oil
3 lb. chuck roast
4 beef short ribs
4 cups beef broth
24 oz. amber ale
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs savory or rosemary
2 onions
16 oz. Cremini mushrooms
2 lb. carrots
2 lb. yellow flesh potatoes (such as Yukon gold)

2 Tbs. corn starch

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Salt, pepper and lightly flour the chuck roast. In a roasting pan, large enough accommodate all ingredients, heat 1/2 cup canola oil over high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Sear the short ribs and the chuck roast until richly browned on both sides. Add beef broth, beer, herbs, one finely diced onion, 8 oz. of finely diced Cremini mushrooms, and 2 finely diced, peeled carrots. Place in oven for two hours topped with parchment paper. Peel and cut onion into large dice. Halve the Cremini mushrooms. Peel and cut carrot into large pieces (apprx. 2 in.), Peel and quarter potatoes.  Remove parchment, remove herb sprigs, add all vegetables to pan. Roast another hour or until potatoes are tender.

Remove the roast and vegetables to a large platter and cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, drain the pan dripping, retaining one cup of liquid. If there is not one cup of liquid, supplement with beef broth.  Mix corn starch with 2 Tbs. cold water. Return pan to the stove top over medium heat, add 1 cup of liquid and cornstarch. Bring to a boil while scraping all the pieces of browned matter from the pan. Remove from heat immediately upon thickening to a gravy. Pour generously over roast and vegetables.

Serve with another cold Madtown Nutbrown Ale.


Belgian Braised Beef3

Butchers, Beef, and Three Hours of Smoke

Here in the Great Lakes, a local butcher is a good person to know. Let’s say one day you walk in looking for something unique to throw on the smoker. No, not pork belly. We’ve done that. Beef brisket, done it. Most of the standard fare, we’ve covered. If you’re a regular like Tom and you’ve caught the butcher when things are not busy, they just might invite you to the backroom to take a look at the half cow they are preparing for the day and ask you “What looks interesting?” That is how he ended up with a six pound, custom cut, beef short rib from the folks at Clancy’s Meat & Fish. If you are able to procure such a glorious cut of beef, here is one of our recommended preparations:

Smoked Beef Short Ribs

Spice Mix

Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon five spice powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon powdered ginger. Then add just enough olive oil to wet the mixture and make a paste.

Prepare the Beef Ribs

Coat the entire beef short ribs with the mixture, wrap with plastic wrap and allow to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Fire up your smoker, apple wood and oak chips are recommended. When smoker settles to approximately 250 degrees, throw the beef ribs on, bone side down over indirect heat. We placed a pan with Sprecher Oktoberfest underneath to catch dripping which later became a pan sauce. Smoke for about 3 hours or until internal temperature reaches 185 degrees. The meat will pull easily away from the bone. It should look something like this:


Beef Ribs1


We enjoyed the smoked ribs two ways – the first evening we had a slab of beef with sauteed kale, potato rosti, and creamed corn. The corn was a roadside farmer’s stand find which we creamed with buttermilk and Carr Valley Cheese’s Dancing Sheep Fontina, picked up earlier directly from the one of the Carr Valley locations. The ribs were deeply smoked and unbelievably rich in flavor as the inter-muscular fat had partially rendered and left the beef really moist, the sugars caramelized into a crisp exterior shell of spicy goodness.

The next day we sliced leftover smoked ribs into 1/4 inch slices, served two slices on a multi-grain sourdough toast, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and Carr Valley Cheese’s Smoked Gorgonzola (same recipe for the tomatoes as our past version of a steak sandwich).

Beef Ribs2

These were rich, decadently fatty and creamy, with the concentrated tang of the oven-roasted tomatoes adding a nice contrast. If you have the opportunity to enjoy them lakeside on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, alongside friends and family, they may be even better. This is Great Lakes living. This is Great Lakes cuisine.

Clancy’s Meat & Fish is a great little butcher shop in the Minneapolis area. In Madison, talk to the folks at Underground Meats which we featured in a previous post. In Milwaukee, Bunzel’s Old Fashioned Meat Market is a great family-run butcher or Bavette La Boucherie offers a very European-style shop. Wherever you are, find a real butcher, explore different cuts, ask them what they think, if you like their stuff keep going back. A local butcher is a good person to know.

Reflections on Sauerbraten


Inspiration can come from anywhere. At a recent used-book sale, I stumbled across this 1936 publication by Culinary Arts Press of the “Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book: Fine Old Recipes” and decided it was time to try a traditional Sauerbraten which I had been considering for some time. Here is the recipe:


I started with a 2 lb. chuck roast and adjusted accordingly on volumes but retained the spice levels. Then into a non-reactive container in the fridge for four days. The result:


The marinade is strained and saved. The roast is patted dry and then seared over high heat to brown all sides. The roast is removed from the pan and thinly sliced onions and carrots are added, sauteed until golden, then the roast is returned to the pan. Then the marinade is added to the pan along with beef broth and allowed to simmer for 2 hours until tender. At this point, I deviated a bit from the traditional recipe. I removed the roast and kept it warm in the oven. I strained the cooking liquid and added the carrots to the roast. I used the onion to cook thin ribbons of lacinato (Tuscan) kale, dried cranberries, and wine. The traditional recipe calls for adding “crumbled gingersnaps” to make a gravy.  Instead, I added ginger, clove, and molasses to mimic the flavors and thickened the liquid with flour for a simple gravy. The side dish was a serving of buttermilk spaetzle with a generous amount of Edelweiss Creamery’s Triple Cream Butterkase.


The Butterkase from Edelweiss is rich and creamy with just the slightest hint of something a bit grassier, fuller in the flavor.  Very mild, but added to the buttermilk dumplings it added just the right richness in texture and flavor to contrast the slight tang of the gravy. The kale offered a contrasting texture and bitterness.

The tang of the sauerbraten was not overly pronounced in the roast, but the gravy carried those flavors through the dish.  The meat was more tender than a traditional pot roast and lead to thoughts of shredding the leftovers and stuffing a periogi or dumpling. Good eating and more inspiration.