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German-Style Potato Bake is an ideal complement to sauerkraut and grilled bratwurst, but also can accompany pork roasts or chops. Photo by Sue Doeden

Celebrate Oktoberfest with German-Style Potato Bake

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When the air becomes crisp and summer turns to fall, the Germans host a raucous event in Munich to mark the change of seasons.

I've thought about what fun it would be to attend the festivities that, this year, begin Sept. 18 and continue through Oct. 4. The mere thought of Oktoberfest conjures up images of sauerkraut and sausages, beer maids shuttling steins overflowing with Hefeweizen along wooden tables, mugs clashing in hearty toasts and tuba players oom-pah-pahing the buttons off their lederhosen as jovial people sing and dance on benches.

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It's nice to dream, and that's what I'll continue to do as I celebrate Oktoberfest right in my own home. I'll pull out my dad's old German beer steins, put some bratwurst on the grill, heat up some sauerkraut and slide a dish of German-Style Potato Bake into the oven.

Potatoes, dug fresh from the earth, are plentiful this time of year. Store them in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Don't refrigerate them. Doing so converts some of the potato's starch to unwanted sugar, making them grow unpleasantly dark when cooked. Don't expose them to direct sunlight, which turns them green and makes them bitter. And try not to store them in a spot in your basement where you might forget about them. I did that once. Months later, a foul smell led me to a large bag of rotten potatoes.

Red potatoes, with less starch and more moisture than white russet potatoes, are the ones to use in this potato dish. They hold their shape when cooked and will slice nicely, without crumbling.

Once the whole, unpeeled potatoes have cooked to tenderness they can be cooled and then stored in the refrigerator overnight. Cooking the potatoes the day before you plan to serve the dish means final preparation will take much less time.

A slightly thickened, full-flavored sauce tops the cooked and sliced potatoes before they go into the oven. Spicy brown mustard and prepared horseradish are German-inspired ingredients that lend such authentic spark to the dish, you might think you're in Munich. And a cup of beer added to the sauce acts as a secret ingredient that creates surprising flavor, yet no one can guess what it is.

Once you've poured 1 cup of beer into the cooking sauce, there will be some remaining in the bottle. Either drink it or pour it into sauerkraut as it heats.

German-Style Potato Bake is the perfect complement to sauerkraut and grilled bratwurst, but don't stop there. I'll be serving these potatoes with pork roast this winter. And I can only imagine how delicious German-Style Potato Bake will be when it sits beside one of the breaded and fried pork chops that I make just once a year. You see, I fry them in lard, just as my grandma did.

Don't despair if you can't make it to Munich for Oktoberfest. Just get some sausages on a hot grill, heat up the kraut and nestle a German-Style Potato Bake in the oven. Then, turn on some oompah music and start dancing on the picnic table.

German-Style Potato Bake

2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled

4 slices bacon, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup beer

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cook potatoes, covered, in a pot of boiling water to cover. Depending on size of potatoes, they will probably need to cook for at least 20 minutes. When potatoes are tender, drain and allow to cool. At this point, potatoes can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

Lightly butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the potato slices in prepared baking dish. Set aside.

Cook bacon until crispy in a large skillet. Transfer cooked bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Reserve bacon fat in pan. You should have about one tablespoon of fat in the pan. Add 3 tablespoons butter to the pan and heat until melted. Add chopped onion and sauté until tender. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle in the flour, stirring until smooth. Return to heat and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually add beer and broth, stirring until mixture is smooth. Return to burner and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in mustard, horseradish and black pepper.

Pour sauce over potato slices. Bake, uncovered, in preheated 375-degree oven for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated through and bubbling around the edges of the dish.

While potatoes are baking, use your clean fingers to crush the crispy bacon pieces into small bits. In a small bowl, mix the bacon bits with the chopped parsley.

Just before serving, sprinkle bacon-parsley mixture over the potatoes. Yield: 5 to 6 servings.

Tip from the cook

--If you prefer not to use beer in the potatoes, use chicken broth for the entire 2 cups of liquid.

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