Sunday, February 17, 2013

Trost essen für Sie!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMINGFor 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!


  1. This casserole sounds like a perfect meal for a cold and snowy winter day . . . thanks for sharing the recipe.

  2. Yum...Thanks for the recipe. I must try this next summer. Dee

  3. We have to drive an hour-and-a-half from the Berkshires to the Springfield area, but then we have our choice of three nifty German restaurants. But tonight we'll try this recipe, thank you. Mary Moody

  4. Oh boy, can't wait to try this one Julia! We have German blood too, so my father was crazy for sauerbraten. I made it a few times but then went off the whole idea...

  5. You remind me how much I love German food! I ate mt way through Germany once! We used to have so many wonderful little German restaurants in my neighborhood of Yorkville, especially on East 86th St. but they have vanished now, except for the little Heidelburg. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. You're right, Julia- very little good German food around. We recently were in Hartford and had a delicious lunch at The Student Prince ( ... staggered out of there because of course SO MUCH FOOD.

    That recipe looks great - printing it out now. I make a simpler warm tangy potato salad. No meat; just boiled potatoes, homemade vinaigrette (with mustard), chopped onion, and handfuls of fresh dill. Mmm.

  7. Cafe Mozart is still around, Julia!

    Thanks for mentioning it. My youngest daughter has spent a lot of time in Bavaria and other parts of Germany, and we have had an exchange student from Munich as part of our extended family now for 10 years. My daughter and I will be in DC together soon, and it would be great fun to go to Cafe Mozart with her so she could have her favorites, and show me some new culinary delights.

    I am mostly German, heritage-wise, with French, Hungarian, and a smattering of French/American Indian. My mother's family has been making Hungarian potato salad for decades. I've never seen any recipe that comes close to it, although it does have bacon in it.

  8. Mmm, German food. I was introduced to it in Fort Worth, TX. There was an amazing german restaurant there, not just great food, but always a little "band", accordion, drums, etc, with family attitude. Always loved watching the kids doing the "waddle like a duck" (or was it chicken) dance. The chef had started out as a cook in the German Army.

    I've never found a recipe that comes close to his saurbraten. Wish I could, I absolutely loved it. And the red cabbage, and the "real" saurkraut, the list goes on and on. We'd try to eat there at least every 2 weeks, preferably once a week.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. I'm going to try it.

  9. Oh, dear Julia! My stomach started to growl as I read your recipe! Trouble is, I just got back from the supermarket, I have almost NONE of the necessary ingredients, and I'm too wiped out to make a return trip. I intend to start next week's shopping list, and I now know what will be at the top of the list. I have rarely eaten German food except at potlucks. There was a German restaurant in the town where I grew up. I went there perhaps twice; there was little parking available so it didn't come to mind as a place to go to regularly. I did enjoy the food, though. I think it closed nearly forty years ago. Might be a good time to start exploring German cuisine; my maternal grandfather thought one of his grandfathers might have been from Germany.

  10. Julia, I visited Stuttgart when I did a book tour in Germany a couple of years ago, and had, not German food, but the most fabulous Thai food ever, in a tiny place near the bookshop.

    I traveled in Germany several times with my parents when I was in my twenties. This was when you used Frommer's Europe on $25 a Day (can you imagine that now?) and we ate in some wonderful family and working class restaurants. But my favorite thing was the bratwurst from the stands at the railway stations.

    And now I'm hungry...

  11. Dear Julia, being a German food author and a friend of Debs, I thought I might offer you my helf if ever questions arise about how to substitute ingredients or how to cook special pieces of meat not normally cooked that way in the US. You can find me at Debs' FB-site.
    Will be glad to help. (I still have a friend in the US whose husband worked at Patch while they lived next door in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt - that was in 1988-92).
    Greetings from Germany, Bibiana Behrendt

  12. Oh, yes, bratwurst from the stands! I lived in Hamburg my junior year..and wish I could go back. (We were mostly interested in beer at the time, shhhh.)

    Potato salad is so unsung--when it's good, it is SO delicious!

  13. Sounds heavenly. Will definitely try later this week!

  14. Julia, thank you so much for posting this! Steve will thank you, too. He has been trying to get me to make this for years, but the only way he could describe it was "...mmm... German style potato salad, not that other way."

    His mother couldn't help, except to say, "No, that's not it." She didn't cook. If she had it would have been English, she'd point out.

    We went to Kiehle, Germany. Kiehle is Steve's middle name, after a lone German ancestor from, of course, Kiehle, Germany. We sampled every potato salad and casserole in KIehle. I couldn't figure it out. Steve was very upset but didn't dare say so after being responsible for our overnight at a truckstop on das autobahn. Don't ever do that.

    I know this is what Steve has been talking about all these years. It has all the ingredients he ever mentioned. It looks like the ones he said were right. I'm going to make it as a surprise for him now that he's back home and eating once again.

    Danke sehr.

  15. Recht vielen dank, Julia. Did you know a spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria when I was growing up. Now we can mutter together in German at St. Martin's gathering and nobody will know who we are talking about.
    And I still LOVE German food, in spite of the calories.

  16. Lillian was stationed in Germany, and that started her love of German food. My great-grands were straight from Munich, and they taught my grandmother how to cook, and she was our "housekeeper" when I was growing up (Mom was working and it was just us gals), so German food was a staple for us.

    So you can imagine our delight, Lillian's and mine, when we found a German deli with imported food in nearby Burien. Oh my yes.

    That recipe would be going immediately into our recipe books if we could still eat potatoes. Thank you so much for sharing!

  17. After reading Rhys' comment, I have to say I love that you Reds are so global -- love that about you all.

    And, Rhys, you gave a wonderful, fascinating talk at our SinC Tucson meeting yesterday. Thank you for making our first anniversary extra special.

  18. It sounds terrific - and thank you for sharing this recipe.

  19. Vielen dank, alle!

    The one thing I have to add comes from perusing Google Images last night looking for some "sexy" food pics. Turns out it's impossible to make German food look glamorous.

    Oh, and my family was clamoring to have German Potato Salad casserole after I did the blog, so we're eating it tonight!

  20. My mother says she was 20 before she knew you could eat potato salad cold!

  21. This sounds delicious. Your soup recipes were a big hit and I suspect this will be as well. Thank you.

  22. "Turns out it's impossible to make German food look glamorous."

    Doch! Das stimmt. Your tummy sees from the inside where it counts. Real food is glamorous!

  23. Remind me to send you my recipe for Grerman red cabbage.....

  24. I love your German red cabbage, Mom! Send it to me and I'll put it up when my next recipe Sunday rolls around!

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  26. I've recently been to DC twice in the last 2 years and scoped out different cuisine while there. Originally from Wisconsin German decent I had moved West and unfortunately there is not much authentic german food here unless I cook it myself. To answer your question, yes, Cafe Mozart is still there and open serving awesome German cuisine. I've missed eating sauerkraut and bratwurst and I can say their food is awesome. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I wanted to share it with my kids this New Years day.