After last week’s she-crab debacle, I decided that there would be no substitutions, and definitely no going off-book this time. I would respect and honor the explicit instructions of the Junior League of Milwaukee. Yet, almost immediately, I found I was having trust issues with my recipe.

Because, you see, I was making Sauerbraten. After Edward Harris Heth’s elegy to Sauerbraten mit kartoffel-kloese (potato dumplings) in the introduction to Be Milwaukee’s Guest, I did not see any way I could avoid it, despite certain misgivings. Like the fact that Sauerbraten marinates in a mixture of red wine vinegar and baking spices for four days, or the fact that it is served with a gravy containing crumbled gingersnaps. In what universe could this possibly be tasty?

But I figured that if it was good enough for the Junior League of Milwaukee and their families, it was good enough for me. And even I had to admit, it did look awfully pretty when I tucked it in the fridge in its marinade, though four days in a red wine vinegar marinade will do scary-looking things to a piece of beef.

How braten becomes sauerbraten

How braten becomes Sauerbraten


Kidney Fat

Kidney Fat

3 pound round steak, cut about 2″ thick
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stack celery, chopped
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 peppercorns
1 pint red wine vinegar

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

1 1/2 pints water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kidney fat
6 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar
8-10 gingersnaps, crushed

Wipe meat with a damp cloth; season with salt and pepper. Place in glass or enamelware bowl. Combine onions, carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns, vinegar, bay leaves, and enough water to cover meat. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinate for 4 days.

On 5th day, drain meat, reserving liquid, saute in kidney fat and 1 tablespoon butter until seared on all sides (use enameled vessel). Add marinade liquid and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 3 hours. Melt remaining butter in a pan; blend in flour and sugar and let brown; add to simmering meat mixture. Cover and continue cooking until meat is tender (about 1 more hour). Remove meat to serving platter. Stir gingersnaps into the pot juices and cook until thickened. Pour this gravy over meat and serve. Serves 6-8.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

I did not know if I’d be able to obtain kidney fat on short notice, but sent Brady to our local butcher.  Being a southerner who frequently finds himself in need of lard, ham hocks, andouille sausage, and other things you can’t get at Ralph’s, Brady’s become something of a regular at Marconda’s Meats lately, and they’ve never failed him.  So, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when he waltzed through the door and presented me with a pound of kidney fat (and a still-warm beignet – what a guy).  Though my recipe only called for 2 tablespoons, well, it was only $3, and now I have a bunch of kidney fat in my freezer should I ever require it.

My fears were also allayed throughout the course of the afternoon, because, despite its rather inelegant appearance, the Sauerbraten smelled maddeningly delicious.

The arrival of our dinner guest fast approaching, I began work on the potato dumplings. Ms. Ratzsch also provides this recipe in Be Milwaukee’s Guest.

Potato Dumplings

These light, tender dumplings are the traditional substitute for potatoes with Sauerbraten, but prove a delectable companion dish with roasts and stews of every kind.

In case you weren't sure what "farina" is

I always buy this brand, for obvious reasons.

3 pounds white potatoes
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons raw farina
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped cooked bacon
2 cups toasted bread cubes (croutons)
2 tablespoons flour

Peel potatoes and boil until just soft enough to mash. Drain, mash thoroughly and add all other ingredients, mixing well. Shape into balls 1-2″ in diameter. Drop the dumplings into gently boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well. Serve with gravy or melted, seasoned butter.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

I was just about to get these on to boil when our dinner guest, Leah, arrived.  Leah is a Wisconsin native who actually makes a living doing crafty, awesome stuff.  She can knit absolutely anything, bikes fearlessly in Los Angeles, and in yet another testament to her coolness, took no offense when I put her to work peeling apples for our dessert.

Be Milwaukee’s Guest has a very waste-not, want-not aesthetic, filling extra margins on the page with cooking tips, interesting local facts, and short, simple recipes like this one.

Simple, but satisfying

Simple, but satisfying

Baked Apples

Something special in baked apples… pare, quarter and core 6 cooking apples.  Place them in a pie plate and cover with a mixture of 4 tablespoons maple sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 1 cup boiling water, simmered together for 5 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees until apples are tender, basting occasionally.

-Peggy Kuehn O’Malley

As the dumplings boiled and the gingersnap gravy thickened, Brady prepared a cocktail he was first served in Madison, “The Sconnie”: pour 1 oz. Maker’s Mark over ice, and top off with ginger ale. I opted for a Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat, proudly brewed in Chippewa Falls, WI.

And then, we sat down to dinner. Leah brought a leaf from Wisconsin to pretty up the table:

Our Milwaukee Dinner

Our Milwaukee Dinner

And wow, what a dinner it was. The tangy, marinated beef just fell apart on the plate, the gingersnap gravy was a perfect balance of savory and sweet, and the apples were a light, wholesome finish to the meal. Our only criticism was that the potato dumplings didn’t hold together well, and were a little bit bland, but perfectly serviceable with a dollop of gravy.

Three cheers for Leah and Brady, who helped me get the meal together, three cheers to the Junior League of Milwaukee and Be Milwaukee’s Guest, but most of all, three cheers to Sauerbraten, the true hero of the meal.  I’m sorry I ever doubted your deliciousness.