‘Kid’ being a deceptive moniker - yeah, she’s my younger sister. And she’s racked up almost as many writing hours as a band of rogue New York Times journalists chugging Red Bull shooters. She doesn’t write fiction, so she’s not charged with compelling readers to try her wares. She writes to invigorate membership for an association, which means the more the merrier for them - and her. She’s been there several years now - so yeah, she’s good at that.
She’s also a very good single-ish mom (insert 16 hour days preceded by snarky divorce here). And a great neighbor (the local ice cream truck gleefully spots a sucker as he rounds the bend), member of her church (and at one time, vestry - when the heck did she do that? In her sleep?) Plus being a loyal friend (yes, she makes time for those) and, well, my sister. And my friend, too.
And so I was a little taken aback by her question. I mean, who cares?
“How do you come up with Vito’s cooking?”
“Dunno, really. But it’s funny, right?”
“Yes, it’s funny. But what would you do if a fan asked you that question?”
“Can’t I just say I drink too much? Ha! Ha!”
“You mean, what I really do?”
Somewhere across the miles, I heard a dull, rhythmic thudding sound. “What’s that?”
“My head. On desk.”
“Oh. Well, if you put it that way, sure I’ll tell you.”
“My forehead thanks you. So does my dented blotter. Okay, so? What is it?”
“I make up a lie and I write it down.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Some more thudding repeated itself.
“Doesn’t that hurt?”
“Not as much as this conversation.”
“Alright already! You want details, here goes. I take a normal recipe, say for something like Choucroute Garnie, and Vito-ize it.”
“What’s Choucroute Garnie?”
“The better half says it’s basically a cabbage, sauerkraut, kielbasa, sausage and pork casserole. The true version takes forever to make, because of all the different cooking times. But, it’s a classic.”
“Yes. Even the big guns have their own versions. Julia Child, Jacques Pépin…”
“Wow. Well, your husband the Chef sure would know.”
I nodded and opened a cabinet door, wondering if that’s what I should make for dinner this evening, since the weather’s turned a bit brisk. Our ‘Vinnie’ of course misunderstood. He sat at attention, in the hopes I’d indulge him with a little late morning Kitty Cream. I nudged his paws away from pulling out a can of soup on his head. “It’s a great comfort food dish.”
“Sure. But what do you do, to Vito-ize it?”
“Think like Vito. You see, he likes to put his signature on things - especially all things Kielbasa.”
“So he likes to throw in something unexpected.”
“You mean, like apples?”
“Well, maybe. If they were whole. More like prunes. For example, in Christmas Bizarre I mentioned he threw in something green into his Choucroute Garnie. Although I never specified it, I imagined Vito read one too many articles on the merits of kale. Or better yet, Jell-O!”
“Lime Jell-O! Wait! No! This is better! Mint jelly!”
“Look, listen to the part where Mina’s considering the dinner plate he and Miriam left for her.”
A large slice of kielbasa stared back at me swimming in an ocean of sauerkraut, along with something green.
“Yikes. That’s some signature. What’s he trying to do, kill someone?”
“Well, he is an ex-leader of the Moils.”
“I see your point.”
“Although, now I’m a little disappointed I myself.”
“I think I should have had Mina investigate the ‘something green’ further, and discover it being mint jelly.”
“Nope, that’s Vito. It’s his shtick.”
“Okay. I have to go now.”
“I guess you have deadlines, huh?”
“Right now, I have nausea. And I’m hoping someone in the office has Tums.”
We hung up. Then my faux Vinnie pounded his paws on the counter, all but pointing where the cream is kept. Sucker that I am, I indulged him, and went back to work. I soon found him sitting on the desk next to me, swatting my computer screen with his tail.
I looked over at his bowl. He hadn’t touched it. “Don’t you want it?”
He swatted at this blog post some more. A lot more.
“What? You’re queasy now, too?”
He hunkered down and frowned at me.
I commenced searching for something appropriate, as my mini-Mountain-lion leapt down to lap up his cream: mission accomplished.
So, without further ado, below is a good recipe as form of an apology for the aforementioned queasy reading. It’s also included in the “epilogue” recipe section from Mina Kitchen Mystery #2, Christmas Bizarre. This is a simpler, more working-person-friendly version of Choucroute Garnie. As Julia would have said, bon appetite!
Not-Vito’s Choucroute Garnie
I was horrified to discover that Vito’s various means of killing kielbasa are based (loosely) on fact, according to my better half, the Chef. Apparently, there are as many versions of Choucroute Garnie as there are Vito’s best intentions not to destroy it. Oy vey. The version below is my take on this game; which personally I find well suited as comfort food in the winter.
1 large can of sauerkraut, rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
8 small red-skinned potatoes (or 4 large, halved)
1 lb. (small bag) baby carrots
1 apple; cored, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
1 heaping teaspoon caraway seeds
1-2 cups white wine (a good Chardonnay will do)
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1 lb. smoked Kielbasa
1 lb. Knockwurst
1 lb. pork chops
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F.
Rinse and drain the sauerkraut well, and spread across the bottom of a large roasting pan (I use glass/Pyrex). Sprinkle the chopped apple and caraway seeds on top.
Cook the bacon in a skillet. Remove the cooked bacon and set aside. Add the chopped onion to the bacon grease (you may want to add a little butter.) Cook until translucent. Combine with the sauerkraut/apple mixture in the roasting pan.
Melt the butter in the skillet and combine with vegetable oil. Cook the pork chops to brown on each side; until about half-way cooked through. Add the pork chops to the center of the roasting pan, resting on top of the sauerkraut mixture. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top of the pork chops.
Prick the skins of the Knockwurst, then add to the roasting pan, to surround the pork chops. Add the carrots to the outside of the Knockwurst, to outline the meats with a carrot ‘ring’.
Cut the kielbasa into 2-inch sections and add to the edges of the pan, alternating with the red potatoes.
Place the roasting pan on an oven rack, and add about 1 cup of the white wine. Bake until all meats are cooked, approximately 1 hour; times will vary. Also, you will want to look in on it every 20 minutes or so, to adjust adding more wine or not.
To serve: remove from oven and let ‘set’ for about 10-15 minutes. Serve with a slotted spoon, making sure a taste of each meat is included in each portion.
Serves 6 adults, approximately.
Suggested sides: green salad topped with sliced apple and a light champagne vinaigrette; French/Italian bread.