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SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE

Like a lot of Baltimore Ravens fans, part of me would just as soon forget about this Sunday's Super Bowl. It will be hard to watch the televised game without feeling our team "coulda, shoulda" been there.

Yet we have to accept that the Ravens got beat, 15-6, by the Indianapolis Colts, the team that is favored over the Chicago Bears to win this year's Super Bowl title.

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Maybe this weekend will be easier to swallow if we give ourselves a pity party this Sunday, fixing comfort foods that will help us through this difficult time. I bounced this idea off a couple of sorrowful souls after the Ravens had gone down to defeat.

Two of the first were Vince Fava and Mike Popoli. During the football season, Vince would give me a gloomy assessment of the Ravens' chances almost every time I bought olive oil at Trinacria, the Italian grocery on North Paca Street in downtown Baltimore that he presides over. In contrast Mike, his behind-the-counter colleague, glowed with optimism about the team's fortunes as he sliced the prosciutto. I sided with Mike.

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After the Ravens had gone down to defeat in the playoffs, Mike was downcast, saying that about the only food that could pull him out of his funk would be a mound of fresh steamed shrimp.

Vince was feeling vindicated. "I told you so," he said, repeatedly. Still I thought I detected a tinge of regret in his voice over what might have been. When I asked Vince for a gastronomic remedy for our gloom, he had a ready answer. "Lasagna and wine," he said. "You eat the lasagna, you drink the wine, you fall asleep, then you are in heaven."

Another downcast Baltimore fan, Randy Kuning, told me he would be relying on food and fellowship - large doses of both - to get him through the Super Bowl. During the season, Kuning and a few fellow engineers at Northrop Grumman gathered for pre-game feeds near M&T; Bank Stadium.

They whipped up dishes that were linked to the cities of the opponents of the Ravens. When Buffalo was in town, his crew made Buffalo chicken wings. When the Bengals were here, they cooked Cincinnati-style chili. When the Colts were here, they pounded slices of pork tenderloin, fried them and served them as sandwiches. The tenderloin venture, like the outcome of the Colts game, was disappointing, Kuning said.

As for this weekend, Kuning reported via e-mail that he and his buddies will "try to forget the sad spectacle of traded field goals" by gathering in the club basement of the Baltimore County home of their fellow tailgater Joe Hoffman. Ensconced in knotty-pine bliss and stretched out in front of a high-definition television, Kuning and his crew plan to "eat ourselves silly."

I tried to get into the spirit of this Super Bowl by tracking down dishes that represented Chicago and Indianapolis.

Chicago is known for its Italian beef sandwich, a savory mixture of thinly sliced beef with a topping of marinated vegetables served, with lots of juice, on a soft roll. When I lived in Chicago some years ago, these sandwiches and the town's deep-dish pizzas kept me going during the city's frigid, seemingly unending winters.

While visiting relatives there this past summer, I quickly headed to Johnnie's Beef on West North Avenue in the western Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park. There, I stood in a long line of beef eaters waiting their turn to get their hands on the sloppy sandwich said to be the best in Chicagoland.

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I struck up a conversation with the fellow in line in front of me. He, it turned out, was a painting contractor picking up lunch for his crew. He told me he had painted the homes of several Bears players and coaches. I surmised that not only was this sandwich a local favorite, it also was linked to the Monsters of the Midway, or at least to their painters.

Back in Baltimore, I dug up a recipe for the sandwich in Steak Lover's Cookbook, a 1997 paperback written by William Rice when he was food and wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune. I am fond of this book, and I like this recipe. But I have to admit that when I make an Italian beef sandwich, mine does not taste as good as Johnnie's.

As for Indianapolis, I figured that because it was the town where Wonder Bread was born, I would make a bread pudding. The Taggart Baking Co. of Indianapolis gave the nation Wonder Bread in the 1920s. The name of the bread, along with the red, yellow and blue balloons on its package, were the inspiration of company vice president Elmer Cline.

While visiting an international balloon race held at the Indianapolis Speedway, Cline saw a sky filled with colorful balloons, was struck with wonder and applied the name and balloon logo to the bread.

The Wonder Bread Web site, which provided this history, also had several recipes. I looked them over, but preferred my bread pudding recipe. It comes from chef Paul Prudhomme, who is a Cajun, not a Hoosier. But this dish, like Indianapolis, stands up for America's breadbasket.

I keep telling myself that a meal featuring Italian beef sandwiches and bread pudding could be appealing. But I can't seem to psyche myself up for fixing this representative Super Bowl spread. Instead, I am more likely to wallow in what might have been.

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I will probably make myself a big batch of chili. Then I will apply five drops of red food coloring and two drops of blue food coloring to the bottom of a glass, pour in a pale ale and give the mixture a stir.

Then I will eat my chili, watch the game and cry in my purple beer.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

Giardiniera

Makes 1 quart

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1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced

2 inner ribs celery, diced

1 cup sport peppers (jarred hot Italian peppers), cut into 1/4 -inch pieces

1 cup pepperoncini (chili pepper) cut into 1/4 -inch pieces

2 jalapenos, cored, seeded and cut into pieces

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2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Combine bell peppers, celery, sport peppers, pepperoncini and the jalapenos in a bowl. Toss with oil and vinegar until well mixed. Transfer to a 1-quart jar, cover and store in the refrigerator until needed. The relish will stay crisp for 3 to 4 days.

Italian Beef Sandwiches and this recipe from "Steak Lover's Cookbook," by William Rice

Per tablespoon: 7 calories, 0 grams protein, trace fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 1 gram carbohydrate, trace fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 49 milligrams sodium

Italian Beef Sandwiches

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Serves 4

3 cups beef broth

3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning

1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 cup hot-pepper giardiniera (recipe follows)

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crushed red-pepper flakes to taste

4 Italian buns or soft rolls, 6 to 7 inches long

1 pound tip steak or top round steak, cut into thin strips

Combine the broth, black pepper, Italian seasoning and garlic in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain the broth.

Coarsely chop the giardiniera if the pieces are large. Stir in the red-pepper flakes for a spicy sandwich. Slice buns lengthwise, without cutting them completely in half.

Using a meat pounder, the side of a cleaver or a large knife, pound each strip of meat until very thin. Bring the broth back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer and add the meat strips a few at a time.

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Cook until they are brown and have cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir with tongs or chopsticks as needed to keep the slices apart. Do not let the broth return to a boil or the meat will toughen. Remove the pan from the heat.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of meat broth over the inside of each bun. Divide the beef strips among the buns and moisten each portion with 2 more tablespoons of broth. Top with 2 tablespoons of giardiniera. Cut each bun crosswise and serve with plenty of paper napkins.

Per serving: 416 calories, 39 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 22 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 77 milligrams cholesterol, 689 milligrams sodium

Pity Party Chili

Serves 12

9 tablespoons olive oil or butter

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3 large onions, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 pounds ground beef

4 cups canned tomatoes with juice

3 green peppers, minced

3 cups water

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6 tablespoons chili powder

3 teaspoons cumin seed, crushed

3 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed

3 small bay leaves

In large pot, heat oil or butter. Add onion and garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the meat. Cook until brown.

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Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for at least 1 hour or until mixture is the thickness you desire. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Courtesy of Rob Kasper

Per serving: 343 calories, 23 grams protein, 22 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 14grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 830 milligrams sodium

Bread Pudding With Lemon Sauce and Chantilly Cream

Serves 8

3 large eggs

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1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 cups milk

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1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, dry roasted

5 cups very stale Wonder Bread cubes with crusts on

In a large bowl, beat the eggs on high speed with an electric mixer until extremely frothy, with bubbles the size of pinheads, about 3 minutes (or with a metal whisk for about 6 minutes). Add sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and butter and beat on high until well-blended. Beat in the milk, then stir in raisins and pecans.

Place bread cubes in a greased loaf pan. Pour egg mixture over them and toss until bread is soaked. Let sit until you see only a narrow bead of liquid around the pan's edges, about 45 minutes, occasionally patting the bread down into the liquid.

Place in a preheated 350-degree oven. Lower the heat to 300 and bake 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake until pudding is well-browned and puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes more.

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To serve, put 1 1/2 tablespoons warm Lemon Sauce in each dessert dish, then spoon in 1/2 cup hot bread pudding and top with 1/4 cup Chantilly Cream.

Per serving: 505 calories, 8 grams protein, 23 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 70 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 128 milligrams cholesterol, 212 milligrams sodium

Chantilly Cream

Makes about 2 cups

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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1 teaspoon brandy

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or triple sec)

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons sour cream

Refrigerate a medium-size bowl and beaters until very cold. Combine cream, vanilla, brandy and Grand Marnier in the bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed 1 minute.

Add the sugar and sour cream and beat on medium until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Do not overbeat.

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Adapted from "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen"

Lemon Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 lemon, halved

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

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2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Squeeze 2 tablespoons juice from lemon halves and place juice in a 1-quart saucepan; add lemon halves, water and sugar, and bring to a boil. Stir in dissolved cornstarch and vanilla. Cook 1 minute over high heat, stirring constantly. Strain, squeezing sauce from lemon rinds. Serve warm.


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