JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: For me, there are two kinds of comfort food. One is the traditional American dish circa 1960: Homemade mac and cheese, meatloaf, stew, spaghetti and meatballs. Basically, the meals my grandmothers made.
The other kind of comfort food is German cooking. I spent a significant piece of my childhood in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, when my family was stationed at Patch Barracks. My mother was never the sort of military wife to stay shut up in the base; we traveled throughout much of Europe and enthusiastically partook in the culture of Bavaria. This has left me with a live-long affection for hedgehogs, tracht (the traditional clothing of Austria and Bavaria) and German food.
The problem is, it's hard to find a good German/Austrian restaurant. There was exactly one I knew of in DC (is the Cafe Mozart still in business?) and zippo in the greater Portland, ME area, despite our city being a notoriously foody town. We used to go to the Silver Swan when visiting NYC, but that closed a few years ago. Since then I've been scoping out the eateries in Yorkville, the traditionally German neighborhood in Manhattan.
As an adult, I copied my mother's recipes and taught myself to make schnitzel and sauerbraten and karottensalat and kartoffelpuffer aka latkes (sadly, mine never come out as good as Mom's.) I've also developed some super-quick German-ish meals that my family really likes. This is one of them. Take the measurements with a grain of salt (pun intended.) I never actually measure when I cook, so I'm guesstimating on the sauce ingredients. You should definitely taste and adjust accordingly.
German Potato Salad Cassarole
Three pounds potatos, peeled (if thick-skinned) and cubed. I add one pound extra for every teen who will be eating. Count 12-year-old girls as teens.
1/3 pound bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 to 1 keilbasa, or smoked sausage of your choice, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbls brown mustard - the spicier, the better
Water to make sauce
Relish or chopped sweet pickles
Put the potatoes on to boil while assembling and chopping the other ingredients. In a deep skillet or a pan, start frying the diced bacon. You want it to release its fat before adding the onions. Saute onions until limp, then add the kielbasa.
Add flour and stir until it thickens up like paste. You may need to add more flour. Once you have your roux (paste) toss in the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, then stir in water, slowly, until the sauce has the consistency of gravy. Here's where you taste it: it should have the characteristic sweet/sharp flavor of German sauces. If necessary, add more vinegar, brown sugar or mustard. I don't cook with salt, but if you do, you can add it in as well.
Drain the potatoes. Mix well with the sauce and stir in relish or sweet pickles. Guten Appetit!