Deciding what to put on a dinner plate to satisfy your family or friends can be a daunting task. Whether you are a well-seasoned chef or a beginning cook, sometimes you feel like you’ve exhausted every recipe in your comfort zone. It is in these times that we need to find a little inspiration from the community around us.
When trying to plan a menu, inspiration can come from an abundance of sources. A great place to start is working with our seasons and what is readily available during each time of year. In Canada, we are blessed to have four distinct seasons, each producing a different variation of crops and flavours. A visit to your local farmers market will surely put some dinner ideas in your head. Another source from which to draw inspiration is your own culture. Regardless of your background, you will likely feel comfortable cooking that type of cuisine. My grandmother’s classic French recipes are family treasures and always present a great and exciting challenge – especially when trying to perfect them the way Grandmamma would! There are endless Internet recipe collections available to lend a helping hand, but for the purpose of my recipes, I drew inspiration from my community.
Each city in which we live is famous for something – perhaps it is a local ingredient, an artisan or craft-produced product, a local farm or fishery, or even a famous community event. Here in Waterloo, Ont., we are surrounded by rich farmland and local producers, so inspiration is never far off. But during the month of October, every citizen in Waterloo becomes just a little bit German, as we celebrate the second largest Oktoberfest festival in the world. Ah, German inspiration! This event is highlighted in our community calendar each year, and creating a meal with Oktoberfest in mind is a great way to join the celebration. Think of what your favourite ingredients would be and use your own creative juices and personal background to create something totally unique.
Next time the worry of what to make for dinner creeps into your thoughts, take a look around your community or at Grandma’s cookbooks for a little inspiration. An answer to “What’s for dinner?” is likely right around the corner.
German potato salad wedges supreme
- 1 ½ pounds russet potato, cut in wedges
- 1 ½ pounds sweet potato, cut in wedges
- ¼ cup green onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup dill pickles, coarsely chopped
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
- 2 tsp coarse sea salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
- 4 ounces slab bacon, cut in ½-inch pieces
- 3 tbsp German-style grainy mustard
- 1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Toss the potato wedges in two tablespoons of olive oil and season liberally with the coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Put the potato wedges on a foil-lined baking tray and bake for about an hour, until the wedges are golden and crisp.
- Meanwhile, put the olive oil and bacon pieces in a skillet, and set the skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring until the bacon has rendered its fat and starts to crisp, about five minutes. Whisk in the mustard and vinegar, and heat to a boil. Continue whisking until the dressing is smooth and emulsified. Set aside.
- When the potatoes are finished cooking, remove them from the oven. While they are still hot, pour the dressing all over the wedges. Sprinkle the green onion, pickles and hardboiled egg evenly over the wedges. Top with fresh parsley and season to taste with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Enjoy!
Oktoberfest burger with beer-braised onions and apples
- Beer-braised onions and apples
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cups thinly sliced sweet onion
- 1 cup thinly sliced Granny Smith apples
- ½ cup very finely shredded red cabbage
- 2 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
- 1 tallboy can of Waterloo Dark lager
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Oktoberfest burgers
- 2 pounds ground heritage pork
- 2 pounds bratwurst sausage,
- removed from the casing
- 1 tbsp steak spice
- ½ teaspoon seasoning salt, or to taste
- 1 cup real mayonnaise
- ¼ cup whole grain Dijon mustard
- Spiced gouda, shredded
- Spicy dill pickles, sliced thin
- 8 pretzel rolls, split and toasted or grilled
- In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add the olive oil.
- Add the onions, apple and cabbage. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat. Sweat the mixture for about five minutes until the onions become soft and translucent.
- Add the Dijon mustard and mix well. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the beer. Allow the beer to come to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until the beer has almost completely evaporated, approximately 20 minutes. Season again to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm while you prepare the burgers.
- Prepare the grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-high heat.
- Combine the ground pork and bratwurst in a large bowl until combined, but do not overmix. Season with steak spice and seasoning salt.
- Form the mixture into eight patties, each about four-inches in diameter and one-inch thick, being careful not to pack the pork/sausage mixture too tightly.
- Grill the burgers over high heat, rotating 45 degrees after a few minutes, and then flipping once after a few minutes longer. Allow burgers to sear a few minutes and then put them on the top rack of the grill, top with gouda and finish cooking with a closed grill lid over medium heat, about five minutes longer.
- Combine the Dijon and mayonnaise in a small bowl and brush on the buns. Grill or heat the buns just until they become soft.
- Assemble the burgers, starting with the buns and the burgers, add a heaping spoonful of beer braised onions and apples and finish with slices of spicy dill pickles. Don’t forget to grab the napkins!
- Serve with German potato salad wedges, and of course, a cold Waterloo Dark! Enjoy!
Patrick Mathieu is a 13-year veteran of Waterloo Fire Rescue,
where he is acting captain. He has won several cooking competitions and
has helped raise thousands of dollars for charities by auctioning
gourmet dinners at the fire hall. Contact him at