For my inaugural Off the Shelf review, I chose Season® sardine fillets in sweet  and tangy Spanish style sauce. As you may know from my introduction, I am an unapologetic sardine eater. They contain a ridiculous amount of fresh Omega 3 and fatty acids.  They are also wild caught and Pacific sardines are a best choice for sustainable seafood. Basically the best traits of select expensive fish, but in a small $3 tin.  So why doesn’t everyone eat them? Like I need to tell you that most people think they are disgusting.  Tiny little slimy cold fish in a can of mystery oil with their spines (!) still intact. Most tough guys like me just eat the spines too, but you can also pull them out Predator style for a fun way to turn your co-workers green (good times).

If that last paragraph didn’t scare you off, I’m happy to tell you that Season® brand’s line of fillet style sardines gives us a glimmer of hope for how sardines could be palatable, or do I dare say… good?

To start with, they’ve cut the sardines into miniature fillets and done away with the spines and some of the skin. This does indeed make the fish much lighter and easier to eat; they now feel prepared and pleasant on a salad and not so much like chunks of aquarium-sized fish.  A big improvement.

Also, the flavor of the sweet and tangy sauce is commendable. Often, sardine flavors employ one of two strategies: cover up the taste of fish in something strong like mustard and dill (aka the sardine surprise), or to essentially put the stinky, bland fish in a can with water or oil, or what we’ll call the sad trombone of snack time.  Sweet and tangy sauce hits right in the sweet spot: not too fishy or too strong. The sauce has a mild flavor of clove and oregano with bite of pepper (the ingredients list both red and black). There is no fishy or canned taste, nor an overwhelming saltiness that some canned sauces sometimes possess. I’ll also take a moment to note that the sodium level is about 300 mg for the entire tin;  less than a serving of most  lunch meats and surprisingly low for a canned protein.


The Verdict

4.0 These sardines are swell! The texture and flavor is probably a best case scenario for sardines out of a can, and they make a nice addition to a salad or on crackers. If you’re sardine curious, here’s your training wheels.

The Decline and Fall of the Manhattan 
by St. John Frizell

In this entertaining article from edible Manhattan, Mr. Frizell recounts the early days of the Manhattan cocktail.

I came across carrot relish as a folded, typed page jammed into my grandmother Rosemary’s old family cookbook.  Long ago, she worked as a typist and would sometimes type important notes or an errant recipe shared along the way. I called her to see if she could remember where this one had come from. She couldn’t.  “I haven’t made that in a long, long, long time. It’s been so darn long ago. Oh Golly! When I was first married I forgot to mark down who gave me what recipe. That could be an early one, I don’t know.” While its origin may be lost to the mist of time, carrot relish read as something I needed to try.

This recipe is very easy to make and the best results require a little patience:  at the beginning, slivering the green pepper and onion finely enough to not overpower the delicate flavor of cooked carrots; and again at the end to allow enough time for them to mature in the back of the fridge.  More on that in a moment.


4 cups sliced cooked carrots
1 slivered green pepper
1 slivered onion
1/4 cup oil (Crisco or Salad)
3/4 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar

Cook until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate 24-48 hours.

Notes and Preparation

  • I used vegetable oil and red wine vinegar. I am sure olive oil and a white balsamic could be interesting, but I’d cut the sugar.
  • 24-48 hours is not nearly enough. Let sit in the fridge for at least 5 days. Otherwise the recipe is fine.

The Tasting

Carrot relish is similar to a chow-chow with oil adding something beyond, say, just pickling carrots.  I’ve read that ‘relish’ is really an American term, and this recipe, too, seems to be a unique hybrid of traditional European ideas on pickling and preserving carrots. I was disappointed, initially, with how bland this recipe was, but that was due to not letting the relish just sit for about a week. I think the extra time saturated the cooked carrots with brine and oil to draw out some of their sugars and enhance the flavor and contrast between sweet and sour.

The Verdict

These are delicious straight from the jar and work beautifully on something tangy or sweet like barbecue.  Greta had the ingenious idea of using taco night to feature ground turkey seasoned with a homemade sweet barbecue sauce, pepper and nutmeg. We packed the turkey into corn taco shells and added red onions, the pickled carrots, cheddar cheese and fresh cilantro.   Literally some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten, and that’s saying something; we both bring our A game to taco Tuesdays.


My friend Dean and I have an arrangement: he hunts and harvests fresh venison and I cook new things for him to try. Greta and I love having wild game to cook with, and pushing the envelope in the kitchen is natural for us. My dad remembers his great grandmother preparing small game like rabbit when my great uncles had the chance to shoot enough for a meal (I hope for a future post to explore the old, great recipe for braised rabbit, Hasenpfeffer).

So with a venison roast from Dean, I decided to prepare the best dish for this cut: Sauerbraten. With days of marinating and slow cooking, it’s perfect for a tougher cut like a venison roast. Also, the distinct sweet and sour flavors goes great with game. We’ll be cooking a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe from Greta’s great-grandmother’s Partsch family cookbook.  The sides for this meal are Grandma Jeanette’s Amazing German Red Cabbage and a variety of roasted vegetables. Schmackhaft! 

For little history on Sauerbraten, we’ll start with the notes written below the recipe in the Partsch family cookbook:

…with its German ancestory quite clear from the name, this is thought to the the forerunner of that famous American staple, the pot roast. In the history of Germany, there has never been a lack of of wood for cooking fuel. Therefore, many kinds of slow-cooked meats, boiled, braised and pot roasted, have achieved a permanent place on the German table. Among beef dishes,  boiled beef with horseradish sauce, pot roast (Sunday favorites) and Sauerbraten are perhaps the most popular.

While it’s true to claim this dish as a forerunner of the American pot roast, it would be an error to assume it is pot roast’s sole ancestor. The Food Timeline rightly points out the Dutch Oven, English Bake Kettles, and the French Braise as other foods related to what later became the New England Boiled Dinner and then, the pot roast. The rest about the plentiful wood and slow cooking is spot-on; these techniques have much to do with making less desirable meats more palatable. While were on the subject, I should mention that Sauerbraten was once used as a recipe for horse meat (!) in parts of Germany. Just Food Now goes into some depth to explain why horse was once an important food source, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I’m going to say neigh thanks…



3 lb. beef pot roast (I used venison here instead of beef, but game is not typically commercially available)
3/4 c. red wine
1 Tbsp. wine vinegar
1/4 Tbsp. pepper
2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp. thyme
dash of cloves
1 onion chopped
4 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. gingersnaps (optional)

Sauerbraten may be prepared with top or bottom beef round, but boneless rump of beef is the best cut to use. Marinate meat in next 8 ingredients for 48 hours in refrigerator, turning it over from time to time. Simmer, covered in 350° oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. (Option: Some sauerbraten recipes call for crushed gingersnaps; 15 minutes before the meat is done, add gingersnaps which have been crushed fine with a rolling pin.) Remove the meat and strain, saving the liquid.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the flour. Cook until golden. Add strained marinade. Stir in sour cream. Heat, but do not boil.

To serve sauerbraten, slice and spoon some gravy over the meat slices. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes or over parsley noodles. Serves 8 to 10. Additional dinner suggestions: red cabbage, orange beets and Black Forest cake.

Notes and Preparation

  • A word on the serving size. I cooked a 2 1/2 pound roast and it yielded about 5 generous servings. That 8 to 10 seems like a stretch to me.
  • I say the gingersnaps are absolutely essentialIt just isn’t sauerbraten without that flavor included. Find the fresh ones from the bakery section of your grocery store.
  • I would add the sour cream to the sauce until desired texture is reached; it is more or less a white gravy.
  • I skipped the noodles and mashed potatoes, but they would certainly be good.
  • Those additional dinner suggestions are all amazing, and I hope to eat/share each one in the future. Real Black Forest cake is the business.

Some meat cooking basics: always preheat the oven; let the roast warm to room temperature before putting it in the oven; check it around an hour by cutting to sneak a look and do not let it over cook. When it seems to be 90% to your liking, remove it from the oven and cover it on a plate with tin foil. Give it a good 5 to 10 minutes to let it settle and finish cooking. We want to ease to the finish line with a cut like this or it will end up too tough.

The venison roast ready for the oven.

The venison roast ready for the oven.

The Tasting

Insanely good. The sharp and sour marinade compliments the distinct taste of game without trying to mask it. The sauce retains the flavor of butter, gingersnaps, and clove.

Combining this dish with red cabbage is irresistible; it has an eye-popping sweet and sour quality that pairs beautifully with the meat. The roasted vegetables also impart a sweetness and saltiness that fits right in.

The Verdict

Dean said he’s eaten venison his entire life, and this was the best venison roast he’s ever eaten. I’m glad and I agree. This meal was a decent amount of preparation and effort, but the result is so completely worth it. Plus, the leftovers somehow tasted magically better.  We’ll call that Thanksgiving Dinner good.  It’s a top pick!

This is a solid recipe. It is no surprise that it’s been passed down through the generations.  I’d say you can’t screw it up unless you overcook it. If that worries you, a slow cooker would probably make it fool proof.

Helpful Links:


Kohlrabi is a variation of cabbage bred from artificial selection to represent a turnip with a round center stem. I first heard of it from a friend who had suggested it to me as an entry to Cannibal Sandwich. He had grown up with kohlrabi as a snack his Dad grew in the garden: raw and sliced thin like a chip, sprinkled with salt. It is common to German-speaking countries like all of the plants bred from the single species Brassica oleracea: Kale and collards, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and kohlrabi. A very old food source, cabbage was introduced to Europe from Asia around 600 BC. Cabbage became popular across Europe because it grows well in cold climates and stores easily. It also can be cultivated in a very fast 3 months. Check out the Cabbage Lore and Trivia page for just about everything you’d like to know about cabbage and its history. You’re welcome.



I remember my great aunt Betty reserving the heart of a cabbage to slice thinly and sprinkle with salt for a snack. I found that Kohlrabi tastes similar to this, but with more of a radish’s crunch. I would describe the flavor as very mild with a pleasant after bite that is familiar to a turnip. I’ve included some popular recipes below for making kohlrabi french fries, and I imagine that preparation must be delicious, if not for kohlrabi’s enhancement with a sprinkle of salt, sliced thinly.  It is a wonderful, healthy snack I’d compare to Kale chips.

If you decide to find kohlrabi, it is important not to pick bulbs too large in size. Many colors and varieties exist, but the smaller bulbs are tender and not as woody. I understand the above picture is about the biggest you should pick.

Helpful Reading:

  1. Cabbage Lore and Trivia
  2. Discovering Kohlrabi (with great recipes)
  3. Eat this now: Kohlrabi



I recently scored an excellent cookbook at the flea market, the Indiana Farmers’ Guide Cookbook, 1945 edition. It contains a few charming and a few potentially revolting recipes in its old, torn pages. The first contender to catch my eye was egg lemonade. As it sounds, the egg lemonade is simply an entire raw egg shaken into a lemonade made with sugar, water and a lemon. One egg per glass, yolk and all.  Yikes.

This immediately reminded me of a scene in the 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite, where Napoleon is treated to a grim lunch of hard-boiled eggs, egg salad sandwiches and a drink to which a farmer cracks an egg into and stirs, after a busy day of shooting his cow in the face. Let me tell you, it’s comedic genius:

But what was up with the egg drink?  The shooting script for the movie describes the drink as orange juice with an egg stirred in, and it left me wondering: what in the world for? I had always assumed this detail was in the movie to drive home the hilarious point that this guy had a ton of eggs to push off on unsuspecting farm hands. But not so fast: here was proof that Indiana farmers actually did make something pretty similar and not that long ago. But why? I set out to settle this matter once and for all.

Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains by Anne C. Funderburg explains that egg drinks began as a new novelty in the late nineteenth century in a business where the public clamored for the next new thing. The Soda Fountain did exist before the Civil War, but options were limited to a handful of flavors. Fountains innovated quickly to keep up with customers’ changing tastes with a rapidly expanding variety of flavors and ingredients. By 1890, many of these “next new things” included milk and egg-based drinks. Funderburg writes:

“The most popular was the egg phosphate- a mixture of raw egg, soda water, phosphate (phosphoric acid), and orange, claret, lemon or chocolate syrup…Other favorites were eggnog, egg chocolate, sherbet de egg,  egg lemonade, coca egg phosphate, egg flip, vichy egg shake, egg calisaya, and orgeat a la egg. Large fountains bought dozens of eggs each day, making farmers happy.”

She further explains that the dispensers earned the nickname “throwers” for an elaborate show of shaking these drinks back and forth, through the air without spilling a drop. Of course, this extra bit of personal attention was something patrons were willing to pay more to see.  If the Soda Fountain was the Starbucks of the 1890’s, then the thrower was a barista slinging a frozen coffee blended egg drink in any flavor you’d like.

Two ladies letting their hair down at a drugstore soda fountain in the later part of the 19th century. Black was a big hit with the Victorian crowd. Photo courtesy of Wilkinson Ranch. All rights reserved, apparently.

Two ladies letting their hair down at a drugstore soda fountain in the later part of the 19th century. Black was a big hit with the Victorian crowd. Photo courtesy of Wilkinson Ranch. All rights reserved, apparently.

Not that throwing helped along the taste of an egg drink. As quickly as 1897, The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages: A Treatise Especially Adapted to the Requirements of Druggists and Confectioners noted that “…”Throwing” an egg drink, as it is termed, is to be deprecated, as it has a tendency to make a flat, insipid beverage.”  This admonishment is again given in the 1920 edition of the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Volume 67.

While it is duly noted not to throw your egg drinks (yawn), I’d like to instead point out that the two above referenced resources were published 23 years apart; both directly mention the popularity of egg lemonade; a clue perhaps, to egg lemonade’s staying power. What was the appeal?  I believe we can credit this to the perception of drinking something that felt healthy.

To support this is Winfred Scott Hal’s mention of egg lemonade in his 1910 nutrition book Nutrition and Dietetics: A Manual for Students of Medicine, for Trained Nurses, and for Dietitians in Hospitals and Other Institutions.  On page 58, he explains:

“It is probable that no more easily digested food can be prepared than egg lemonade…if it is to be used for the purposes of general nutrition the whole egg, yolk and white, is made into a glass of egg lemonade, through the addition of the juice of half a lemon, sugar to taste, water sufficient to fill a glass and iced.”

In terms of turn-of-the-century medicine, lemonade became the popular vehicle to help those who needed to eat more eggs. Hal claimed that egg lemonade helped conditions as varied as obesity to tuberculous. People likely came to generally accept this, and the drink became analogous to today’s health shake from a place like Smoothie King. Tastes great, sure, but even better because it feels good for you.

This healthful perception also continued the egg lemonade’s  popularity as the temperance movement gained momentum and promoted a few moral alternatives to wet the whistle.  As Funderburg relates, soda fountains seized this  opportunity to beat bars into the ground and promote “… temperance drinks, such as near beer, apple cider, egg lemonade, prohibition punch, iron brew and ginger ale.” She shares:

The Soda Fountain declared, “The soda fountain of today is an ally of temperance… Ice cream soda is a greater medium for the cause of temperance than all of the sermons ever preached on that subject, and in this capacity is doing better and more far-reaching work all the time!”


Juice of 1 lemon
1 fresh egg
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 pint ice water

Mix lemon juice, sugar and beaten egg. Place in large glass, add ice water, cover glass and shake well. Strain into two smaller glasses.

The Verdict

Here’s the recipe found in George Kappeler’s 1895 cocktail book (and is almost exactly the Old Fashioned I prefer):

“Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass;
add two dashes Angostura bitters,
a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel,
one jigger whiskey.
Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.”

See, a simplified balance of primary ingredients like this one was something very modern for its time: the Manhattan Club’s cocktail origin is traced back to 1874 and the martini probably originated in the latter decades of the nineteenth century too.  The accepted standard of the Old Fashioned cocktail was earliest mentioned in print in 1880, which is only 15 years before its inclusion in the aforementioned bar recipe book. So why call it an Old Fashioned anyway?

I believe it is possible to chalk up the proliferation of the standard Old Fashioned to some creative liquor marketing. Let’s begin with an aside in The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book:

[The Old Fashioned] was brought to the Old Waldorf in the days of its “sit-down” Bar, and was introduced by, or in honor of, Col. James E. Pepper of Kentucky, proprietor of a celebrated whiskey of the period. It was said to have been the invention of a bartender at the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville, of which Col. Pepper was a member.”

The Colonel James E. Pepper was a third-generation whiskey distiller with a mission beyond the quenching of thirst. While Mr. Pepper’s granddaddy, Elijah Pepper, began distilling in Kentucky as far back at 1776 at Old Pepper Springs (back then it was part of a giant Bourbon “county” in the territory of Virginia), I suspect the family whiskey faced increasing competition by the time James took the helm in 1867;  For example two young, notable upstarts of that decade included Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel in middle Tennessee and the Ripy brothers in Tyrone, KY producing Wild Turkey.

Something had to be done. The Colonel began to position Old Pepper as something inseparable to American History. He even went as far to nickname James E. Pepper Whiskey  “Old 1776.” I’ll quote directly from the fascinating James E. Pepper website:

“Old Pepper” bourbon becomes the favorite brand of noted Americans:  including President Ulysses S. Grant, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, President Andrew Jackson, Vice President John C. Calhoun, President William Henry Harrison & statesman Daniel Webster.

President Abraham Lincoln once famously replied to some critics of Grant, “By the way, gentlemen, can either of you tell me where General Grant procures his whiskey? Because, if I can find out, I will send every general in the field a barrel of it !”

Just imagine James E. Pepper, a real Kentucky Colonel, traveling by private rail car to all points west and north to spin yarns and share a special recipe that used his family’s whiskey.  He became a genteel southern brand ambassador who sold his liquor with an image, historical stories, and an ace cocktail that was probably about as old fashioned as the day it was invented. This business of crediting his bartender as the old-fashioned’s inventor was in fact a ruse: David Wondrich reveals in his mixology must-read, Imbibe!, that this cocktail was mentioned in the Chicago Tribune a full year before the Pendennis Club opened its doors in 1881. So while we may never know its origin,  I believe we’ve found the colonel to thank for spreading the Old Fashioned across the land.

James E. Pepper Ad, 1940

Note the history in the ad and the Old Fashioned next to the bottle; both still used to sell whiskey almost 40 years after Col. Pepper died

It was a powerful bit of branding and possibly the distinction that he needed;  in 1879, Col. James Pepper moved his operation to a new distillery in Lexington, the world’s largest at the time. The company would continue to exist until 1958.

The Recipe

While once a simple mixture brilliant in its balance, the Old Fashioned became heavy and too sweet with ingredients like soda pop and fruit. A former king of cocktails with a sad tale of decline, and a bit to me like the king of rock ‘n’ roll: once brilliant enough to shake his hips on Ed Sullivan, only to inevitably become a bloated mess of sideburns, peanut butter and barbiturates. Just like Elvis, time left the Old Fashioned too soft to pull a punch and properly take care of business. Someone call Colonel Tom Parker!

Elvis in his later years, sagging under the weight of n'er-do-wells and astonishing belt buckles

Elvis in his later years, sagging under the weight of n’er-do-wells and gargantuan belt buckles

Jeffery Morgenthaler provides a link to the best recipe and advice I’ve literally ever seen for an Old Fashioned by Martin Doudoroff.  It would be a waste to reproduce it here other than to say: 1. I prefer bourbon but rye would be fine; 2. Yes to ice; 3. He’s right on about the bitters; 4. I always use a  slice of orange peel;  and 5. HALLELUJAH brother nothing else belongs in an Old-Fashioned. Remember, ginger ale or mashed up fruit might taste great with bourbon, but it tastes great as a punch or something and not as a true Old Fashioned.

My Preference

1 teaspoon sugar

a few dashes of barrel bitters- I prefer Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters for the cinnamon taste. Angostura is fine too.

good ice- If you can “taste” your water, buy a $1.00 bag of ice on your next grocery run. This is the most overlooked ingredient in a cocktail, and good, clean ice is essential here.

2 oz. bourbon or rye- A million choices. If you’re new to brown liquor, try something mid-range like a nice Bulleit Rye or Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. My gold standard would be Pritchard’s Double Barrel Bourbon. Tell Phil that I sent you!

1 twist orange peel- Just the rind, as big of a piece as you like.

Add the sugar to a rocks glass with a few healthy shakes of bitters. Combine with a tablespoon or so of cold water and swirl to completely dissolve the sugar. This should smell amazing. Add enough ice to chill the drink, but not so much as to overwhelm it. Add the bourbon and sit for a moment to chill.  Stir with a spoon. Wring out the orange peel over the surface to release the citrus oils and add the peel to the drink. 


The Old-Fashioned is a simple drink to make with a reward for following directions closely. The sugar unlocks the complexity of the bitters that linger on the tongue after a sip; the cold, cold whiskey is pronounced in flavor or spice without overwhelming or burning the mouth; and the citrus provides a nose that additionally smooths out the spirit.

I’d recommend an Old Fashioned to those interested in trying more whiskey and bourbon but are intimidated or unable to drink either neat or on ice. It may end up as your favorite; I can drink brown liquor any which way, but I still prefer this cocktail.

Helpful Reading:
1. Imbibe!
2. Museum of the American Cocktail
3. The Serious Eats Guide to Bourbon


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