50 Shots of America–Nebraska

The Strobe

The Strobe

I think I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading getting to the 37th state: it’s Todd’s home state and so there’s a little extra pressure to come up with something stellar. Am I up for the challenge? Let’s see…

The Cornhusker state came to be on March 1, 1867, just a couple years after the end of the Civil War. It’s name means “flat water” (for the Platte River) and it’s a good thing it’s got those rivers running around and through it as it’s landlocked three times over. Another curious fact is that Arbor Day began in Nebraska; curious because the early homesteaders (who came for the free land grants a la Far and Away) built homes out of sod because trees were so scarce.

Being smack dab in the middle of the country, it’s no surprise that railroads are big in Nebraska. The state hosts the Union Pacific headquarters and Bailey Yard (only the railroad classification yard–where they sort and switch cars and tracks–in the world).

When we visited Nebraska in 2010, I was amazed at the richness of the soil, the fact that seems just seemed to grow anywhere they were planted, and the number of wineries we found spread throughout the state (too late to visit any, though). The local food of fame, the Runza (aka Bierock), was sampled, as well as the eponymous Omaha Steaks.

Something we were glad we didn’t need to use was the 911 system (developed and first used in Lincoln).

And with that bad segue in place, here’s this week’s drink.

The Strobe

3/4 oz Bourbon Whiskey (like Jim Beam)
1/4 oz Goldschlager
1/2 oz Grenadine
1 oz Club Soda

Combine whiskey, goldschlager and grenadine over ice and shake like a tornado roaring down the plains. Strain into a chilled cordial glass and top with the club soda.

If you think it looks a little like Kool-Aid, there’s a reason for that: in 1927 Edward Perkins created the famous powdered beverage in Hastings, Nebraska. I may not keep the stuff in the house but the grenadine goes a long way towards making this drink look like it’s predecessor. The Goldschlager is a nod to the start of the Black Hills Gold Rush in Sydney and, well, it just wouldn’t be right to have a drink for the Cornhusker state made with anything other than a corn base, would it?

And, of course, it’s named after another Nebraskan invention: the strobe light was invented by Dr. Harold Edgerton of Aurora. Too many of these and you might be seeing spots of light, yourself!

But did the drink pass the Todd-test? With a response of “refreshing,” I think it passed.

Surprises Hide in Nebraska


I had the opportunity to visit Todd’s hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, this weekend. I didn’t know what to expect, really, other than flatland and corn fields.

I was half right.

There’s a lot of corn up there, lining the roads almost as soon as you leave any metro areas, and wheat is plentiful, too! It blows around and gets to where it lines the streets, cornfields and even finds root in bushes planted at the cemetery (we were in town for the unfortunate reason of a funeral).

But Lincoln didn’t seem all that flat to me. Apparently it’s in a bit of a basin and there’s a gently rolling hill sort of quality to the parts that I saw (Lincoln and the highway to and from the Omaha airport).

Haymarket Square

Haymarket Square

While in town we had time to do some sight-seeing and the first place we stopped was the historic Haymarket District. Including the railroad station and several blocks of warehouses converted into shops, restaurants, galleries and lofts, it’s full of old, picturesque brick buildings that kept my camera and I happily clicking away. At least, that is, after we stopped into the From Nebraska gift shop to find batteries.

Licorice International

LicoriceWe mostly walked around and looked in windows, not really shopping (our checked bag weighed-in at 45 lbs, after all, not much room for souvenirs), we did see one store we just had to take a look it: Licorice International. How much licorice could there really be? Enough to have an entire store dedicated to it?

In a word: Lots.

They carry licorice candies from 13 countries, both the traditional black licorice as well as the licorice-like twists in a variety of colors–I even saw some licorice root available for sale!

Licorice International

Licorice International

We were able to taste an Kookaburra Strawberry Twist from Austrailia that was quite tasty, but I’m afraid I made a bit of a fuss when I saw monkey-shaped licorice. A squeal might have escaped my lips. I was even a bit giddy at the possibility of tasting one (turns out most of the items are available to taste if you but ask). The ears and such are traditional black licorice but the yellow muzzle? It’s banana flavored! And with a texture that reminds you of circus peanuts in the best possible way. Even though the Dutch Ape Head licorice only came in 1 lb bags, I had to buy them if only for the novelty factor. Imagine my surprise when we got home and found them utterly addictive.

The rear of the spacious warehouse at Licorice International is used for packaging and shipping orders that keep them quite busy, as I understand it.

“Knee High by 4th of July”


Corn Stalks

As mentioned above, cornfields are plentiful. We stopped by the family farm which was being rented and worked by a local farmer. Even though my own grandfather was a farmer and I’d seen his fields off and on, growing up, he dealt in strawberries, peppers and beans. Corn fields are another sight to behold.

The phrase ‘knee high by the 4th of July’ refers to a benchmark in the growing season. The corn was quite a bit higher from where we were standing; more like that line from Oklahoma–as high as an elephant’s eye. Well, maybe a young elephant.

Nebraskan Wine

As we wrapped up our tour of the Haymarket, we stepped back into the From Nebraska gift shop and were greeted by a wall of wine bottles. As the store purports to carry only items made in Nebraska, I was astonished to find so many different brands and types of wine available from around the state!

We noticed Plum and Rhubarb wine as well as the usual reds and whites, though the varieties were a bit foreign. The store appears to offer tastings and there were signs posted of various festivals in the area (one that morning, in fact, though it was a bit of drive to get to and too late in the day to start). There was also a map of the state that showed over 20 wineries sprinkled around the state (many accessible off of I-80) and half a dozen tasting rooms besides.

Our next trip up there will have to include at least a few of them!

A Trio of Local Favorites

With only 2 days in town we had a lot of nostalgia for Todd to catch up on. First was a Runza–a “loose meat and cabbage sandwich”–sold by a regional chain by the same name. Now, “loose meat” does not a appetizing thought create, yet that’s how I heard it described several times over the weekend. While it’s not incorrect, I prefer to call it a ground-beef and cabbage hand-held pie. Either way, it turned out to be yummy when we did get one after a trip to the Children’s Zoo.

Monkey & a Runza

Monkey & a Runza

Todd still maintains the bierocks I made for New Year’s Day were better but, frankly, I think it comes down to the seasoning. Runza seems to concentrate on pepper alone whereas we added ginger, paprika, nutmeg and caraway seeds along with cooking the cabbage in beer. We also didn’t cook the mixture until it was mush and sort of a grey color all the way around. There’s some benefit to homemade over mass production.

Another well-remembered spot was Vanetino’s. Known from their excellent pizza and rich tomato sauces, it wasn’t exactly as he remembered. The location we went to featured an extensive buffet that included barbecue, Asian and Mexican options in addition to pizza, pasta and salads. Something definitely gets lost with all that “variety” but we hear good things about the smaller locations and the pizza delivery.

Finally, a trip to the grocery store yeilded a salad dressing infamous with the locals: Dorothy Lynch. Diluted tomato soup is the primary ingredient in the sweet and spicy French-style dressing. This got packed in our checked back with the other over-3-ounce contraband and made it safely home. I think Todd is looking forward to salads this summer!

Did the Islands Relocate to Nebraska?

Whiskey Run Creek

Whiskey Run Creek (image borrowed from their Facebook page)

No, not quite.

The words St Croix on a bottle of wine from Whiskey Run Creek Vineyard & Winery refer to a hardy type of grape, one of several that can withstand Nebraska’s cold winters.

Who knew?

On a recent trip to Nebraska we didn’t have time to visit any of the 20+ wineries in the are but we were treated to a wonderful dinner at Todd’s mom’s home that included opening a bottle of 2006 St Croix.

The wine was a deep, dark red–almost like a port in color–with a hint of oak on the nose but very little of that woody taste in the wine itself.  The website describes it as having notes of cherry and plum–no disagreement here–and we can attest that it is absolutely divine with a good steak. It was a pleasure to drink and we hope to try it again on our next trip. (Unfortunately, Florida’s wine import laws are so draconian that they cannot ship wine to Florida. Harrumph.)

at the zoo

Little Monkey Adventure

Everyday Adventures

This little monkey went to Nebraska…


This little monkey went, too…


This little monkey had a Runza…


After these two went to the zoo…

at the zoo

And this little monkey went tweet, tweet, tweet…


All the way home!

We’ll get back to the water glasses this week but I’m still running on fumes from being away from the computer for 4 days! (Hence all that tweeting on the way home.)

Travel was less than fun–2 car trips, 3 airports and 2 plane rides each there and back–but we managed. The funeral was brief (we missed the viewing on Friday night, there was just no way to make it) and the visiting was plentiful throughout the weekend. Todd’s dad’s house was built (and decorated) in the 70s and let me tell you–it’s the house that time forgot! It’s perfectly preserved retro down to the wall-to-wall shag carpeting. Of course there are pictures (over 400 from the 2 days we were in Lincoln) but I’ve yet to weed through them.

In case you’re wondering what a Runza is, it’s a ground beef and cabbage hand-held pie that (when not sold by a regional chain of restaurants by the same name) also goes by the name Bierock. It’s a local staple and one of the things Todd was looking forward to having when back in town. After making them ourselves, it was nice to compare them to the original but… yeah, I liked ours better, too. We also went to Valentino’s (another local staple) and, of course, had some Omaha Steaks. The new monkey came from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo–a spur of the moment addition to our itinerary–and is already making himself at home with the other Georges.

The posting schedule around here might be a little skewed for the rest of the week but I expect to have more on the water glasses before the end of the week.

Operation Bierock


So, apparently in Nebraska there’s a local chain of restaurants that specialize in their namesake sandwich: the Runza–a mixture of ground beef and cabbage inside of a yeast bread package. Born and raised in Nebraska, Todd really missed them and the recipe he’d tried in the past just didn’t make the grade. While that’s enough, on it’s own, to make me want to give it a whirl, the cabbage-factor made it a perfect meal for New Year’s Day. Add some black-eyed peas on the side and our traditional food requirements are taken care of!

Looking at the recipe he’d used in the past, I noticed that the filling was fairly simple: ground beef, onions, cooked cabbage, salt and white pepper. While I’m all for the purity of ingredients standing out, the missing ingredient was obviously flavor! Because bierocks come from a German background, I flipped through some of my books from International Cuisine class to see what herbs and spices came up the most so we’d have a jumping-off point for experimentation. I automatically suggested paprika (for a warm, homey feeling), then we picked out nutmeg, ginger and caraway seed to round out the seasonings. One other addition: garlic. Whether it’s appropriate for the recipe or not, garlic is a staple in our home so I had to add some.

Digging around the Internet some more, I found several recipes for beirocks that all seemed pretty much the same. One interesting tidbit I picked up in the comments of one was to cook the shredded cabbage in beer rather than just water. Awesome idea and we had a bottle of Pumpkin Ale in the fridge that would be perfect (though any spiced ale would work–not a lot transfers to the cabbage, just enough to add another layer of flavor overall). Todd also said that the source recipe was a bit heavy on the cabbage, so we cut that down a bit.

The results were amazing! Never having been to the Midwest or tasted a Runza, according to my audience I not only replicated what he’d been missing but improved it, as well. Go me! Here’s the recipe we ended up with (aka our new New Year’s tradition):

makes 24

11 c All-Purpose Flour
1 pkg (.25 oz) Active Dry Yeast
.5 c Sugar
2 tsp Salt
2.5 c Water
1 c Milk
.5 c Butter
2 Eggs

Combine 4 cups of the flour with the rest of the dry ingredients (yeast, sugar and salt) in a large bowl (preferably one that fits on a stand mixer) and mix well.

In a sauce pan, combine the water, milk and butter and heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit (too cold and the yeast won’t grow, too hot and you’ll kill it).

With the mixer on low, add in liquids until just moistened, followed by eggs. Crank up the mixer to medium and beat for 3-5 minutes. Returning the mixer to low, gradually add in the rest of the flour until all is incorporated. Transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

If you have a super-sized mixer you may be able to do this in the bowl but my 4-quart Kitchen Aid didn’t have the space to let this huge mound of dough move around and do it’s thing enough without some additional kneading by hand. Besides, it’s a good arm work-out!

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, turn to coat evenly, then cover with a towel and let rest until doubled (1 hour for regular yeast, only about 10 minutes for rapid-rise), punch the dough down and let it rise again for another hour.

20 oz Cabbage, shredded, the finer the better
1 bottle Ale
1 c Water
2 T Olive Oil
2 lb Ground Beef
1 lg Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 T Salt
1 tsp ground White Pepper
1 T ground Ginger
1 T Paprika
1/2 t Caraway Seeds, bashed in a mortar and pestle for a bit
1 T ground Nutmeg

Cook the cabbage with the ale and water in a covered saucepan until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain off the remaining liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef and brown, adding the seasonings towards the end of the process. Drain off any liquid (if you used lean ground beef there shouldn’t be much) and add the cabbage to the ground beef.

Divide the dough into 24 even pieces. Stretch, roll and pull a piece into a 5-inch square (or as close as you can get–dough doesn’t like making corners on it’s own). Moisten the edges of the dough with a little bit of water and add 1/3 cup of filling to the center of the dough. Pull up the four “corners” of dough to meet in the center, pinch together and then pinch the x-like seams that form. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Place, seam down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I had to ask Todd how we were supposed to eat them (with knife and fork or just in hand) and the verdict was definitely hands-on. Since this makes a LOT of bierocks, wrap each leftover one individually in foil and then place them in a large freezer bag and store in the freezer until you a craving hits. Place a frozen bierock, still in it’s foil packet, into a 375-degree oven and bake 20 minutes or until completely heated through (165 degrees in the center).