Big top. Circus. Monkeys. Horses. One very old man. And one very large elephant…or bull, depending on how you want to describe wonderful Rosie. Don’t worry, I won’t give anything about the book away, just in case you haven’t read it yet. But you should go get the book now (Water for Elephants: A Novel) and read it! And once you do, throw a little shindig and you can base your menu on mine, or try some new recipes of your own. It was my turn to host the book club meeting, which consists of me and three other lovely ladies in my neighborhood. I wanted the food to reflect the mood of the story, which is about the life of a young man who joins a travelling circus in the 1920’s. So at first I was trying to research circus food, but nothing was really jumping out at me. Corn dogs, caramel apples, funnel cake, etc. Nothing I could serve for a Wednesday night dinner. But I called my sister and, together, we found a whole new direction to go in! Jacob Jankowski, the lead character, is Polish, and as it turns out, so is Rosie. So Polish and circus food for dinner. What a mix!
For the first time on my blog, I am going to give you recipes without pictures along the way. These recipes may be different, but they are so simple and I wanted to share the entire meal with you so you can be inspired to host a similar dinner with friends. I had a great time making and eating the food, but the best part was connecting each recipe with the story itself.
For the wonderful and innocent Jacob, I made sausage and saurkraut. I started with a very simple recipe in the slow cooker and made it my own. I added one can of saurkraut, one package of sausage (you can use any kind you want but I prefer Jacks Gourmet sausages), cut in to pieces, and one bottle of beer. I turned the slow cooker on to low and let the mixture cook. It was supposed to cook for 5-6 hours on low, but a few hours in, I realized that the recipe was very bitter and tart, so I added around 1/4 cup of honey mustard, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of ketchup, a few handfuls of brown sugar and a tablespoon of honey. I raised the level to high and let this new concoction cook until dinner began. The sausage was moist and the saurkraut was sweet. I will definitely be making this recipe again soon.
This next dish was for Rosie. Pierogi Casserole is what I consider the lazy-mans (or elephants) pierogi. It was so simple to make and quite delicious. I cooked 9 lasagna noodles and set aside. I then made instant mashed potatoes, because I thought they would be smoother than homemade chunky potatoes, and set those aside. Lastly, I sauteed 2 sliced onions with 5 chopped cloves of garlic. Once everything was cooked, I began to layer. On the bottom, I smoothed out half of the mashed potatoes. I layered half of the noodles than added half of the onion mixture. I repeated the process, along with freshly cracked salt and pepper over the top, and then covered the pan and cooked the casserole at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Done! If you are having a dairy meal, you can add layers of cheese, as well as cheese all over the top. Yum!
Next came the circus salad! The ingredients I used are shredded carrots and cabbage, thinly sliced lettuce, grape tomatoes, orange and yellow peppers, and raw peas. You can also add sprouts, avocado, radishes, etc. The mixture is up to you! I made a dressing of red wine vinegar, honey mustard, olive oil and garlic powder. I just pour the ingredients over the salad and mix, so I don’t have any measurements for you. But if you just taste as you mix, I think you can do it yourself without a recipe. You can also use balsamic vinegar for the dressing. That would be very tasty, but it would take away from the bright colors that represent the circus.
I am going to announce that I made a huge mistake and I forgot to take a picture of the baked onion rings…I am not happy about it! They were my favorite thing about this meal and I just passed right over them with the camera. What was I thinking?!? I’m going to keep it simple for you: I sliced two large white onions in to rings. I then mixed 4 egg whites, 1 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp. of pepper in a bowl and poured plain bread crumbs on to a plate next to it. I dipped the onions in to the egg white mixture then dipped in to the crumbs. I placed the rings on a baking sheet and cooked them at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. They were so crunchy and the onions were fully cooked and easy to bite through. I couldn’t believe they weren’t fried! Man, I wish I took a picture for you all to see. You will just have to make them yourself to see how they look.
And then came dessert! Circus food for all! Cotton candy, caramel popcorn, peanuts, and ice cream clowns. We stuffed our faces and discussed the book, and everyone left my house with full bellies. Whether or not you are in a book club, throwing a themed party is always a blast and basing my recipes on the book encouraged me to try new and different recipes. I hope you all can do the same. Enjoy the book!