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Potato Gratin With Morbier

The classic Gratin Dauphinois is a very popular side dish in French cooking. With some bacon and cheese it can be transformed into a simple yet delicious main dish.


When combining cheese and potatoes one immediately thinks of raclette because the traditinonal way of serving this Alpine cheese is molten over potatoes. But there is another cheese that can replace raclette because it is very similar.

Morbier comes in wheels of the same size and shape as raclette. Its distinctive feature is a layer of wood ash in the center. Traditionally this was done because this cheese was made in two steps. The fresh cheese curds made from the morning milk were covered with ash to prevent flies from snacking on it, then the curds from the evening milk were put on top. Morbier is a bit stronger in taste than raclette which is exactly why I decided to use it instead.

Ingredients (serves 2 to 3):

  • 500 g waxy potatoes
  • 150 g sliced morbier
  • 100 g diced bacon
  • 200 ml liquid cream with 30% fat
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper

Time needed:

  • Preparation: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly. Arrange the slices in an ovenproof dish.

Mix the cream with the garlic and spices and pour it over the potatoes. Cover with the cheese slices and sprinkle with the diced bacon. Don’t bother to remove the rind from the morbier, it is edible.

Gratinate in the oven until the potatoes are soft and the cheese is nicely browned. The exact cooking time depends on the thickness of the potato slices. Serve with a side salad and a fruity white wine.


Home Smoked Back Bacon

Bacon. The essence of cured pork. Is there actually anyone apart from veg(etari)ans who doesn’t love bacon? So if you are curing your own meats there will inevitably come a day when you will also want to make your own bacon.

Now there are two different kinds of bacon. The most common overall is streaky bacon made from pork belly. It is immensely versatile; it can be fried to a crisp, you can wrap other food with it or you can used it diced to pork up many different dishes.

And then there is back bacon which is most popular in the UK. It is made from the loin with a little bit of belly attached. The uses of back bacon are fairly limited compared to the streaky variety. Essentially it is only used as centrepiece of the traditional Full English/Scottish/Irish breakfast and in bacon sandwiches.


But when done right it, a slice of fried back bacon is a gift from heaven. Frying back bacon is fundamentally different from frying streaky bacon. You want the thin strips of streaky bacon to be as crisp as possible (without becoming dry, of course) while a rasher of back bacon should be thicker (about 2 mm) and still give you the feeling of biting into succulent, juicy meat; still nicely browned of course.

In Germany – and probably in many other parts of the world as well – it is almost impossible to buy proper back bacon. There are some butchers who make it on request for Brits living in Germany but it is not normally seen in butcher’s shops and on supermarket shelves.

One reason more to make my own.

I used:

  • 2.8 kg of a boned and skinned rack of Swabian Hall pork chops
  • 30 g per kg nitrite curing salt (0.5% nitrite content)
  • 10 g per kg demerera sugar
  • 3 g per kg freshly ground black pepper


Time needed:

  • Curing: 2 weeks
  • Surface drying: 1 day
  • Cold smoking: 8 to 12 hours
  • Drying: 5 to 7 days

Special Equipment:

  • High quality vacuum sealer with structured bags
  • A place suitable for cold smoking

Smoking is not strictly needed for back bacon, probably more than half of the back bacon sold in the UK is unsmoked. But smoked bacon is just so much better…


Mix salt, sugar and pepper in a small bowl and thoroughly rub the meat from all sides. Place the meat in a vacuum bag of sufficient size, making sure that all of the cure makes its way into the bag. Evacuate and seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for two weeks or longer. During this time the salt will distribute evenly in the entire piece. There is no need to turn or move the bag during the curing process.

This process will take longer as a wet cure in brine but the method is practically foolproof because if you wait long enough it is impossible to overcure or undercure as long as the amount of salt is calculated correctly. This also means that it is no problem to leave the meat in the refrigerator for a few weeks longer if you don’t have the time to move on.

bacon3After curing remove the meat from the bag and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Place it on a grate and put it into the refrigerator uncovered so the surface can dry properly.

The next day give it a round of cold smoke, about 8 to 12 hours depending on your setup. My smoker is not very big so I cut off a piece and left it unsmoked. As there was quite a large part of thin belly on my piece of meat I cut that off as well and hung it separately for smoking in order to turn it into a kind of skinless Bauchspeck.

After smoking air dry the bacon for a few more days before slicing it, either in the fridge or hung in a cool cellar. You should also do this with unsmoked bacon. This will prevent the infamous white goo oozing out of the bacon slices during frying which is caused by a high water content. You usually have this with cheap bacon from the supermarket which tends to be “speed cured” by injecting brine into the meat.


David Asher: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking

theartofnaturalcheesemaking1Let me tell you a secret. Just as much as I love sausages and all kinds of charcuterie – plenty of evidence for that here on the blog – I love cheese. I’ve dug my way though countless cheese platters in France, and whenever I am in Strasbourg, a visit to La Cloche à Fromage is mandatory.

Making my own cheese has always been a dream for me, and I actually gave it an unsuccessful try more than a decade ago. It failed because I did not have the proper information.

When I began to cure my own sausages in the basement last year I dismissed the idea of making cheese because the room is not cold enough for ripening cheese. It was only two months ago when I learned that you can also mature cheese in boxes in a refrigerator. “What have I been missing all those years….”, I sighed and quickly ordered the necessary supply and began looking for a good introductory book about cheesemaking.

I decided to buy David Asher’s “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking” mainly because of its – sadly – unusual approach of not using any commercial starter and mould cultures. Not that I have any ideological problems with that. For my dry cured sausages I use a starter culture to make sure there are enough bacteria for converting nitrate into nitrite since I usually use only nitrate. Otherwise I consider the risk of harmful bacteria growth too big.

But Asher’s line of argumentation makes sense to me. Orginally cheese was made as a way to store perishable milk for a long time. The process relied on the microbial flora naturally present in the raw milk and also in the atmosphere. But of course not all bacteria and fungi are harmless, some can actually be pretty nasty. So in the 20th century industrial cheesemaking has embraced the philosophy to first sanitise everything and then inoculate pasteurised milk with the appropriate freeze-dried cultures. So far so good, but today even small scale procucers and hobbyists copy this approach, even though the risk is minimal if you have a trustworthy source of raw milk.

But even if you dont use raw milk, cheese can be made without commercial cultures, and this is perhaps the biggest revelation of this book. David Asher fully relies on kefir for his cheesemaking because it contains a wide spectrum of benefitial bacteria and yeasts. Kefir can be used to strengthen the natural microbial raw milk flora or to reintroduce many of the micro-organisms that have been killed by pasteurisation.

The printed version of the book as 320 pages. The design looks a bit hipsterish but after reading a couple pf pages it becomes clear that this book was written by someone with a deep and fundamental understanding of cheesemaking. Unfortunatlely the tone of the introductory section is a bit harsh in its criticism of the “sanitise and inoculate” concept. I have noticed that quite a few cheese making hobbyists felt offended to be sorted into the same drawer as “big dairy”, people who actively embrace this concept because the countless possibilities of combining starter cultures give them – in principle – the ability to recreate any kind of cheese on the planet.

Obviously, using just a dash of kefir in your milk limits this freedom to some extent. But even then there are plenty of variables left to tweak in cheesemaking so you still will be able to make a huge variety of different cheeses. It’s a bit like working with what nature gives you instead of designing everything from scratch.

The book gives a thorough overview of the basics of cheesemaking and the tools and ingredients needed, and also the requirements for ripening cheese are treated in depth. For the truly ambitious cheesemakers there is even a section that describes how to isolate rennet from a freshly slaughtered calf.

The following chapters are dedicated to the various types of cheese such as pasta filata, blue, washed rind, alpine etc., each including several recipes. Certainly also owing to the limitations of the kefir approach the cheese recipes rather are examples that can be adapted to personal preferences than they are encyclopedic. If you want to know what makes Munster different from Limburger or Comté different from Gruyère, you will not find the answer in this book.

I have to point out one design flaw of the cheese recipes: Even though the measures are always given both in the Imperial and metric systems, the metric amount of salt needed is always given in millilitres whereas anyone else in the word uses grams. This is of course caused by the infamous “tablespoon” volume measure that is common in non-metric recipes. With salt this is particularly tricky because depending on the grain size the same volume can contain quite different amounts of salt by weight. And it is the weight of the salt, not the volume, which ultimately determines how salty something is.

Long story short, there is actually an easily overread paragraph in the book where Asher says that a tablespoon equals 15 ml  or 10 g salt. But not rembering this I converted the 15 ml with Wolfram Alpha which gave me 32.4 g which obviously is the weight of a solid 15 ml salt crystal. This did look a bit too much to me, so in my first experiments I used a bit less, but still I oversalted to some extent. So this might be a thing to reconsider in a future edition of the book.

Other than that, I am very happy with this book and can fully recommend it. Originally I intended to write this review alredy a few weeks ago, but then I decided to wait until my first own properly aged cheese is ready to try. This was yesterday.

cheese1It is a basic rennet curd cheese from a litre’s worth of pasteurised non-homogenised Alpine full fat milk that after draining, dry salting and air drying for a day I left untreated in my fridge “cave” for five weeks, apart from daily flipping. This was from a 3 litre batch set up with a bit of homemade kefir and liquid calf rennet that yielded three cheeses in total.


The cheese developed a rind of geotrichum candidum and penicillium candidum similar to Brie de Meaux with some spots of wild penicillium roqueforti on the bottom side. It turned out nice and creamy, slightly softer than brie with a very nice medium strong taste, only a bit on the salty side… (but not too much, actually)


So yes, this really works!

Note: I decided against a German version of this review because the book is not availbable in German. If your English is good enough to understand the book, you don’t need a German review anyway.



Home Smoked Beef Tongue

Tongue is another meat that does not have the best reputation. But if you think about it, the tongue of any animal is pure muscle meat, even though the texture is rather different from say steak. I have always loved tongue so when I saw an entire beef tongue on offer I couldn’t resist.

Beef tongue can be prepared in a many ways. As a cold cut it is one of the pillars of New York style Jewish deli cuisine, and cured cooked tongue is a German classic. I wanted to combine the two, preparing a hot meal from the tip and using the rest for slicing cold.


Sometimes tongue is also smoked – cold or hot – and since I have to possibility to do this I decided on cold smoking.

The process is pretty straightforward. For curing I used the vacuum method because it gives the best results, but it is slower than brining or injection curing. You should give it at least two weeks. The good thing is that you can not overcure the meat because you only add the amount of salt that you want to end up inside. The curing time is long enough so that the salt can spread anywhere evenly by diffusion.

I used:

  • beef_tongue11 raw beef tongue (mine was 1700 grams)
  • 30 g per kg German nitrite curing salt (0.5% nitrite content)
  • 3 g per kg ground black pepper

You need a quality vacuum sealer with structured bags. Rub the tongue thoroughly with the pre-mixed salt and pepper and place in a large enough vacuum bag. Take care that the opening stays dry, otherwise the seal will not be airtight.

beef_tongue2Put the bag into the fridge and let it cure for two to three weeks. There is no need to move it or turn it around.

After curing the tongue is removed from the bag and dried for 24 hours uncovered in the fridge to prepare for smoking. I used beechwood and cold smoked for 8 hours. This was just supposed to add a light hint of smoke to the tongue. The duration critically depends on your smoker and smoke generator setup, so you may need longer or not as long for the same result.

By any means don’t bother to do multiple rounds of smoking. This is only needed for meats that are hung for several weeks like ham or speck. Such an amount of  smoke would be much too dominant for our tender tongue.

beef_tongue3The next day the tongue is simmered for 2 1/2 hours in a strong beef broth. I used marrow bones and meat bones along with carrots, celeriac, onions and leek. The broth should be lightly salted to avoid too much salt diffusing out of the meat during cooking.

Remove the skin after cooking. I cut off the tip and used it for a hot lunch. In classic German and French cuisine, beef tongue is served with madeira sacue. But I went for a quick whisky sauce by simply reducing some of the broth and adding some cream, beurre manié (butter mixed with flour) and a shot of single malt. I served it with mashed potatoes into which I blended the bone marrow from the broth and a little cream to achieve the right texture. Unfortunately I accidentially deleted the picture of the meal.

For slicing the tongue as a cold cut, refrigerate overnight.



Goose Rillettes “Pure Oie”

In January I made pork rillettes which turned out very nice. Here is my take on goose rillettes. In principle the preparation is very much the same, but the fact that an entire bird is used makes the procedure and the logistics a bit more difficult.


Many recipes for goose rillettes include a certain amount of pork. This is done for two reasons: Pork is cheaper and pork fat is more solid than goose fat. And the layer of fat on goose rillettes will melt at room temperature, when pork is added it will be firmer.

As a little shopping tip, any commercial French goose rillettes labelled “Rillettes d’Oie” will contain a certain amount of pork. 100% goose is labelled “Rillettes Pure Oie”.

But of course using pork is a compromise on taste. If you don’t mind softer fat on top of your rillettes, here is the real thing:


  • 1 goose
  • (Additional goose fat may be needed)
  • 1/2 bottle of white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper

Some like to spice up their rillettes with all kinds of fancy seasoning. For me, rillettes is all about the meat. So I keep the seasoning minimal just to add a little depth.

If your goose is fat, then everything will be fine. But some free range geese may be leaner and not have sufficient fat to allow for the traditional fat layer. In this case you might want to top up with purchased goose fat or prepare a second goose as a roast and use its rendered fat.

Special equipment

  • Meat grinder with 2 or 3 mm plate

Time needed

  • Preparation: 30 minutes + 1 night + 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 3 1/2+ hours
  • Finalising: 45 minutes


Rinse the goose thoroughly outside and inside, then pat dry. If the goose comes with giblets, use them for something else, but the neck will be used here. Bone the goose with a sharp knife and separate lean meat and fat including skin. Wings can be left intact, legs don’t need to be boned completely.

goose_rillettes1Cut the meat and the fat into chunks and season them lightly with salt and pepper by weight. I used 15 g salt and 2 g pepper per kg. The seasoning will be adjusted in the final step. There is no need to separate them meticulously, but this helps to improve the rendering of the fat.

Cut or chop up the carcass into several pieces. Remove and discard anything that is not meat, fat or skin from the carcass, such as arteries, blood clots or remnants of organ meat. Cover everyting well and refrigerate overnight.

The next day grind the fat with the meat grinder. Heat some of the fat in a pot that is large enough to hold all of the meat and the bones. Brown neck, wings, legs and meat chunks as well as possible to get some Maillard action going. This can be done this in batches.

Deglaze with the wine, add all meat and bones to the pot including the carcass; also add the bay leaves. Finally put the rest of the ground fat on top. Cover and simmer on minimal heat for at least 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

goose_rillettes2Strain the fat into a vessel. The wine will have largely evaporated. There will be bones with attached meat, the cooked meat chunks and gristy bits that are the solids of the ground fat. Wash your hands.

Prepare a large dish to collect the meat. Remove any meat from the bones but discard all leftover skin and any stringy bits. We only want to keep the meat fibres and the gristy bits.

Then thoroughly knead the meat with your bare hands. This is essential for two reasons: Firstly you can feel any pieces of bone or cartilage that may still be present; discard those, evidently. And then this process will disintegrate the meat completely which is necessary for the texture of the final product.

Weigh the meat and mix it with goose fat in a 60:40 ratio: 600 g meat and 400 g fat for 1000 g of rillettes. The final yield should be approximately half the weight of the goose. Blend everything together thoroughly using a wooden spoon. Do not use a food processor, this would risk tearing the meat fibres. Adjust the seasoning with salt or pepper if required.


Fill into jars or ceramic vessels and top up with a layer of goose fat. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving. Rillettes are best enjoyed on freshly toasted white bread that is still warm.


Italy is famous for its cured meats, be it ham, salami or others. One lesser known cured sausage is a regional speciality from Calabria: ‘Nduja. The name derives from the French Andouille, but this is a completely different beast. This sausage is made from very fat pork and is spiced with 30% hot Calabrian peppers. You can spread in on bread or use it in the kitchen.


Needless to say this dish is quite hot, but the cream cheese smoothens it a little.

Ingredients (per portion):

  • nduja_spilinga30 g ‘Nduja
  • 50 g cream cheese
  • 20 g sundried tomatoes
  • 10 g capers
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Pasta of your choice


Heat the ‘Nduja in a skillet on high heat until it disintegrates, then roast it for about a minute. Add tomatoes, garlic and capers and sautee for another minute. Then add the cream cheese and a bit of pasta water. For a slightly acidic tang you can also add the caper brine.

Let reduce on medium heat until the sauce is nice and creamy. Then add the freshly cooked pasta and thoroughly mix it with the sauce. Serve with a dry white wine, for example a Frascati.

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Sour Tripe

Some people say it’s dog food, others love it. Tripe is a typical poor man’s food of the past, but in Germany it has become almost forgotten, except in Swabia. My mother was born near Stuttgart, and in her youth she learnt to prepare all the traditional Swabian dishes. This is how she cooks tripe:


The sauce is roux based, the acidity is provided by wine and a bit of vinegar. It is very common to serve offal in a sour cauce because it overrides the typical organ meat flavour which some regard as repulsive.

Tripe is not a poor man’s food anymore. In Germany it is about as expensive as supermarket-quality pork shoulder.

Ingredients (serves 2 to 3):

  • tripe500 g beef tripe (pre-cooked)
  • 200 ml beef stock
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 30 g butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves

Make sure the tripe is pre-cooked. Raw tripe needs hours upon hours of cooking to become soft.

Time needed:

  • Preparation: 15 minutes
  • Cooking: 45 to 60 minutes


Cut the tripe into short strips, about 3 to 4 mm wide, removing all excessive tissue.

In a large skillet or saucepan heat the butter and sautee the onions on medium heat until translucent. Add the flour and stir until it takes on a hazelnut colour. The flour will stick to the onion, so take care not to burn it.

Add beef stock, wine, vinegar and tomato paste, and stir to dissolve the flour. Turn down the heat to a minum. Add the cloves and the bay leaf, salt lightly, cover and let simmer for at least 45 minutes until the tripe stips are tender.

Traditionally the dish is served with potatoes or sourdough bread. Recommended drink: A robust white wine like chardonnay or muscadet, alternatively a strong lager.


Onion Pie

I was born in the Kurpfalz region of Germnany which roughly is located between Frankurt and Karlsruhe along the Rhine river. A traditional late summer treat of this region is onion pie served with Federweisser. It is grape harvest season, and vintners sell partly fermented wine which is unfiltered and still sparkling.

Onion pie is related to Quiche Lorraine and Tarte Flambée, and there are also other similar baked goods in other regions of South Germany. The common denominator is dough topped with onions, bacon (or speck) and cream and/or eggs.


The special thing about onion pie is that onions play a dominating role whereas in other recipes the different ingredients are more balanced. The onions are pre-cooked so they lose their sharpness and reveal their natural sugar content which makes the combination with Federweisser such a perfect match.

Some prefer to use yeast dough for their onion pie, I like to use shortcrust pastry.


  • 1 kg large onions
  • 250 g all purpose flour
  • 125 + 30 g butter, unchilled
  • 150 g Specckwürfel
  • 150 g diced bacon or speck
  • 250 ml liquid cream
  • Nutmeg, salt and pepper

Time needed

  • Preparation: 40 minutes
  • Baking: 45 minutes


Mix flour, butter and one egg in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Knead thoroughly for a few minutes until you get a firm and homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap into cling film and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

Cut the onions into thin slices. Heat 30 g butter in a large skillet and cook the onions on meduim heat until they are soft and translucent. Stir often and separate the individual onion rings from the slices. Set aside. In a small skillet fry the diced bacon until just turning brown. Mix the bacon with the onions.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Mix cream and the remaining eggs in a small bowl and season strongly with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Spread the dough in a pie or quiche mould and shape a rim. Spread the onion and bacon mixture evenly on the dough, then pour the egg and cream mixture over the onions.

Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, lowering the temperature to 180 degrees after 10 minutes.

Federweisser is the perfect match for onion pie but you may not be able to find it. Instead a fruity white wine that is not too dry should be a viable alternative.


Lamb Shank With Chickpeas And Tomatoes

Supposedly it’s the last proper summer weekend on the Munich Rubble Plain, so firing up the barbecue is a no-brainer. Last week I made haxe in the smoker, today it was the same cut from a lamb. This is not smoked, though, and I went for a midly oriental version.


Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 1 large or 2 small lamb shanks
  • 200 g dried chickpeas
  • 400 g tomatoes, pureed or squashed
  • 3 garlic cloves (1 finely chopped, 2 pressed)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • Dried thyme and oregano
  • Powdered chile (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil

Time needed:

  • Chickpeas: 1 night + ca. 2 hours
  • Preparation: 20 minutes
  • Barbecue: 2 1/2 hours


Soak the chickpeas overnight in water. Cook them in unsalted water or broth until tender. The time needed may vary with the age of the chickpeas. Salt and let cool down in the cooking liquid.

Preheat the barbecue to 150 degrees indirect heat without smoke.

Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small non-stick skillet taking care not to burn them, then crush them in a mortar. In a skillet heat some olive oil and add the chopped onion. Also add the crushed spices so the oil can pick up the flavours. sautee on low to medium heat until the onions have turned translucent.

In a bowl mix the cooked chickpeas with the tomatoes, the onion and spice mix and one finely chopped clove of garlic. Season with salt and a pinch of both thyme and oregano. For a bit of heat you can also add powdered chile.


Rub the lamb shank with salt, pepper, pressed garlic, thyme and oregano. Place it in an ovenproof dish and spoon the chickpea mixture around it.

Put into the barbecue for 2 1/2 hours. Check the evaporation every 30 minutes, top up with hot water when needed and give it a quick stir. Serve with a robust red wine.




Smoked Haxe

Haxe (roast pork hock) is one the most famous Bavarian dishes. Traditionally it is made on a charcoal rotisserie but it can also be made in an oven. But if you have the right barbecue gear, it is also possible to make it in a smoker.


Haxe is all about the crispy skin, and you need a temperature of above 200 degrees to get it right. I own a Monolith kamado style ceramic smoker which is essentially the same as a Big Green Egg. This type of smoker allows temperatures anywwhere from 80 to 400 degrees simply using charcoal, so this is the perfect device for this.

There are plenty of things you can do wrong with a haxe. Overcooking and a rubbery skin are probably the most prevalent mistakes. To prevent this, a lot of tricks and “secrets” have been invented inlcuding brining, injecting or parboiling.  I am quite the purist when it comes to haxe, and my recent minimalist experiment has shown that nonoe of these tricks are strictly necessary. All you need is dry heat and good timing. A meat thermometer won’t hurt either, but with some experience you don’t even need this.

haxe_smoker1I bought a fairly small specimen of a hind hock of 1.1 kg that provides a large portion for a single person. A bigger one serves two, and a front hock is a slightly smaller single portion.


  • Rub generously with salt. Nothing else.
  • Smoke provided by chunks of fruit wood (I used some of my trusty mirabelle wood I sill have left)
  • 2 hours at 160 to 170 degrees (or to 78 degrees internal temperature), indirect heat with deflector stone
  • Then crank up the temperature to 220 degrees
  • Check often for the skin in this final phase so it won’t burn

This worked out very well for me. Even though I did not use a thermometer, the meat came out almost perfect. You should end up between 80 and 85 degrees. I used a generous amount of wood and the smoker was merrily puffing along most of the time, but still the smoke influence remained moderate, which is good.


I just used a dry dripping pan for the rendered fat. I don’t like sauce with haxen. Good barbecue doesn’t need sauce anyway.

Serve this with bread and/or Bavarian coleslaw and drink beer with it.