Ken’s Famous Coney Sauce

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One of the nice things about having been on this earth for a extended period of time is that you get to experience many things. Some good, some bad. Some things that you remember and many things that you forget. Once in a while some thing, experience or event comes along that stays with you and provides many nice memories. One such thing for me was a coney dog. Not just any coney dog mind you. But one that stands out – nonpareil. The ultimate coney dog. A poor man’s gastronomical delight. One that shall never come this way again. For it just wasn’t the taste of that coney dog among coney dogs: it was the aura of a bygone era. Not only did the sauce covered wiener satisfy your appetite but the smells, sounds and sights of the surroundings made the consumption of this king of coney dogs an event to the looked forward to, cherished and remembered for years to come.

In the old days in Canton, Ohio there was an indoor version of a farmer’s market called the Arcade Market in downtown Canton where one could get the freshest produce, meat cut to order on the spot, actually home made items for your home and of course breakfast and lunch. Homer E. Dickes (Dick) a spry wisp of a man who seemed old even when I first met him as a five year old kid owned two eating venues within the old arcade. One was a sit-down counter that served lunch and breakfast. You could get that day’s version of fast food there, eggs made to order, various sandwiches, sodas and shakes, but there was one thing you couldn’t get there: that was a coney dog. For that you had to amble over towards the other side of the market, elbow your way up to a counter where Mr. Dickes himself served up coney dogs par excellence at Dick’s Coney Stand. During the rush at lunch time you some times had to stand five deep and hope you got served in time to get back to work. Lunch, at least in my working years consisted of two coney dogs washed down by an ice cold root beer. Mr. Dickes would take your order, grab his tongs and deftly fish the required number of wieners from  a pot where they had been simmering since early morning. He would then take a bun or buns from a steam warmer and with a quick flick of the wrist using a long soda spoon put the perfect amount of sauce on your dog. An assistant would bring your root beer and take your money while Mr. Dickes methodically waited on the next customer. In the thirty or forty years that I frequented Dick’s Coney Stand I don’t think I ever heard Mr. Dickes saying anything more that “what can I get you”. He was much too busy for chit-chat and I was much to eager to consume my prize dogs to want to converse with him anyhow.

Those days are long gone now, but the memories linger on. The Arcade Market was slowly pushed aside by the newly arrived aseptic and extremely mundane super markets. Dickes Coney Stand held its own against the fast food restaurants that started to populate downtown Canton, but even the popularity of his coneys couldn’t sustain the Arcade Market and keep it open. The Arcade Market finally lost its battle to serve the citizens of Canton and with its closing Dick’s Coney Stand served its last coney dog some time during the eighties. After its closing I along with others would search in vain for a coney that was comparable to Mr. Dickes’. At times I would come across one that was reasonably good but the ambiance – the sights, sounds, and smells of the old Arcade Market could not be replicated from that earlier time.

For years I had heard rumors that someone had the actual recipe for Mr. Dickes’ coney sauce. I was eventually given a copy of said recipe by a friend and eagerly set about making it in my home. What I was given was a pretty standard recipe for coney sauce that didn’t seem to be anything special and indeed my first few attempts at making the coney sauce didn’t produce the hoped for results. It took quite a few tries before I discovered that the secret to a good coney sauce wasn’t in the ingredients but it was in the preparation. Like all things of import the effort put into creating something whether it be a food item, a material object, or even a work of art directly impacts the final result. You can use the finest ingredients, building materials, or artist paints but if individual effort is lacking the finished item will leave something to be desired.

A quick search of the internet revealed a couple of recipes that were attributed to Mr. Dickes. The one that I offer here is one that has been circulated for years by word of mouth and is popularly thought to be the original recipe from Dick’s Coney Sauce. For many years now I have served this sauce to friends and family and it is now known in my somewhat limited circle as Ken’s Famous Coney Sauce. I have freely given out the recipe but invariably I get feedback from others that they just can’t make it the same way as I do. That is probably because of the required amount of effort that it takes to make a truly great coney sauce. It takes a couple hours of intense motivated effort to make the sauce come out right. An effort that most won’t put forth for a lowly wiener.

Ken’s Famous Coney Sauce

3 lbs. 85 – 90% ground beef

1 28oz can Dei Fratelli tomato puree

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons chili powder divided

2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce

 

1. Over medium heat combine the tomato puree, sugar and one-half of the chili powder, and the Sriracha sauce.

2. Brown the hamburger in a large skillet crumbling it with a spatula while cooking. Once the hamburger is browned evenly, reduce the heat to medium low. Now comes the first of two critical steps in making a great coney sauce. The hamburger needs to be crumbled into extremely fine particles; the finer the better. Pampered Chef makes a tool for chopping hamburger into fine particles that I use. It requires a lot of effort and time but I cannot overstress the importance of getting the hamburger particles as small as you can. I have been tempted to put the cooked hamburger into a food processor but I am not sure if a food processor is appropriate for use on meat. I usually move small amounts of hamburger to the center of the skillet and take out my frustrations on it with my Pampered Chef tool adding the hamburger to the sauce as I go.

3. While I am cooking the hamburger I slowly add the rest of the chili sauce a little at a time. This is the second of two critical steps. It is important to get a balance between the sweetness of the sugar and the tang of the chili sauce. For a sauce to be truly good you should be able to taste both the sweet and tangy at the same time with neither overpowering the other. You should have a lingering taste of chili with just a hint of sweetness. It is important to frequently taste the sauce as balance is critical. After making it for many years you will be able to pretty much tell how far along the sauce is by the color: the sauce will start to take on a rich dark red color from the dark chili powder when you are nearing completion.

All this sounds like a lot of work and it is, but the outcome is worth it. Rest assured that if you follow my directions you will be treated with a sauce that some day will come to be known as Sam’s, Jane’s or maybe if your name happens to be Ken – Ken’s Famous Coney Sauce.

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Eating My Mistakes

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The following post was first posted by me at www.northcantonpatch.com .

 

A few years ago my wife had some serious health problems and I took over the household duties, which included doing the cooking. Other than desecrating a hamburger once in awhile I pretty much let my wife handle the cooking for the previous forty years of our married life. Learning to cook has been one of my life’s most daunting learning experiences.

The first thing I learned about cooking is that you are pretty much committed to eating your mistakes. This means munching on burned meat, mushy overcooked veggies, and the remnants of that omelet that you tried to flip like the chef on television. And therein is one of the main problems of learning how to cook. Those know-it-all chef’s on television don’t live in the real word. Alton Brown has no idea what it is to try to cook on a limited budget funded by a small retirement income. Rachel Ray would quickly loose her plasticized smile trying to cook on a thirty year old Kenmore range that has the temperamental controls of a woman in the middle of menopause. The only “Bams” Emeril would hear are me slamming a pan into the kitchen sink when I forgot a main ingredient in a recipe and the result was chicken cacciatore that tasted like the chicken got run over by a semi as it crossed the road.

This Sunday’s dinner is what started this discourse. I made pan-seared sirloin steaks, duchess potatoes, and curried peas. The steaks and the store bought rolls were the only edible items of the dinner. The duchess potatoes were the result of watching a cooking show during the afternoon on PBS. Another of my learning experiences has been to take all these TV cooks’ advice with a grain of – nay a hearty pinch of salt. The nice lady with the perpetual smile told me that my russet potatoes would be cooked to a delicately tender state after simmering for only twenty minutes. It took my Sear’s range a full thirty minutes just to bring the water to a simmer. Forty-five minutes later the potatoes were finally tender enough to be put through their paces in my potato ricer. Trying to work quickly and not get scalded too badly by the hot potatoes I managed to pipe them onto a cooking sheet and into the oven at somewhere near 400 degrees. I put the steaks into a hot skillet and went to work on the curried peas. Following the recipe I dutifully made a roux that resembled something a diarrheic dog might leave on my sidewalk. Adding peas, beef broth, and powdered curry let me believe I was on my way to a meal worth bragging about. I later learned a good deal about curry powder and that is; a little curry powder goes a long, long way.

Finally, almost three hours after starting the meal was ready and I called my wife to the table. If the state department ever needs a skilled diplomat I want to recommend my wife. She sweetly said that the meal was very good as she crunched tough overcooked duchess potatoes; a result of being extruded too thinly through a pastry pipe. She even had a second helping of the eye-watering curried peas.

In return I did the dishes. That brings me to today’s final learning experience about cooking. Cooking for two is difficult enough with the normal problems of shopping for two. But it is exacerbated by the mess you make. Cooking for two still makes a mountain of dishes to wash and that can be a disheartening experience after a dinner gone wrong.

Next Sunday – Pizza!

EXPLETIVE DELETED

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During the past seven years that I have been ferrying my grandchildren around I have been very proud of my record of never having used profanity when describing the poor or rude driving habits of my fellow motorists while my grandchildren were in the car. Mind you, this was not an easy accomplishment for I am a true northeast-end Cantonian who grew up in an environment where swearing was an accepted fact of life. Even my dear old maternal grandmother could out swear seasoned sailors. As I developed and moved from a childhood into adulthood I became a master of monosyllable sign language. At one time I was a walking lexicon of swear words in four different languages.

My clean record that I was so proud of received its first blemish the other day. I had picked up my grandson from his preschool at noon and I decided to treat him to lunch from McDonalds; something I only do about once a month. My mistake was choosing to go to the McDonalds on North Main street in North Canton. While this McDonalds is a fine establishment it is a nightmare trying to get out of the parking lot at lunchtime. We placed our order, went through the drive-thru and proceeded to the exit at Main St. As we reached the exit we were blocked by a long line of cars waiting for the light to change; something that I had expected. I reached into the bag, captured a particularly large and hot French fry and handed it to my grandson. Just after I gave him his fry I noticed a gap in the traffic and I thought that the driver to my left was going to let me out. I started to edge into the flow of traffic when the aforesaid good Samaritan speeded up and cut me off and I swear he had a smirk on his face. Frustrated and angry I blurted out #@$%**! . Fortunately my grandson was so wrapped up in eating his treat that the expletive deleted went over his head and I am pretty sure he never heard what I had said. If he had I am sure he would have used the new word that grandpa had taught him at the most possibly embarrassing time, most likely that evening at home while have dinner with his mom and dad. Thanks buddy!

Even though my grandson didn’t hear what I said doesn’t excuse my having uttered the aforesaid expletive. Like a lot of people I tend to feel sheltered by the metal tortoise shell of my automobile and I far too often use inappropriate language when describing the driving habits of others.  Unlike tortoises we don’t stick our heads out of our shells and expose ourselves to the wraith of others through our use of inappropriate language. If we did there would be far more road rage, making driving a more dangerous pastime than it is. Road rage is a growing concern today: an uttered profanity is met by one in return; an escalation of words and soon we have a major incident. Maybe we should all take a lesson from my past seven years of transporting two toddlers around town and conduct ourselves while driving as though we have little children in the back seat of our cars.

EATING YOUR MISTAKES

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A few years ago my wife had some serious health problems and I took over the household duties, which included doing the cooking. Other than desecrating a hamburger once in awhile I pretty much let my wife handle the cooking for the previous forty years of our married life. Learning to cook has been one of my life’s most daunting learning experiences.

The first thing I learned about cooking is that you are pretty much committed to eating your mistakes. This means munching on burned meat, mushy overcooked veggies, and the remnants of that omelet that you tried to flip like the chef on television. And therein is one of the main problems of learning how to cook. Those know-it-all chef’s on television don’t live in the real word. Alton Brown has no idea what it is to try to cook on a limited budget funded by a small retirement income. Rachel Ray would quickly loose her plasticized smile trying to cook on a thirty year old Kenmore range that has the temperamental controls of a woman in the middle of menopause. The only “Bams” Emeril would hear are me slamming a pan into the kitchen sink when I forgot a main ingredient in a recipe and the result was chicken cacciatore that tasted like the chicken got run over by a semi as it crossed the road.

Tonight’s dinner is what started this discourse. I made pan-seared sirloin steaks, duchess potatoes, and curried peas. The steaks and the store bought rolls were the only good points about the dinner. The duchess potatoes were the result of watching a cooking show during the afternoon on PBS. Another of my learning experiences has been to take all these TV cooks’ advice with a grain of, nay a hearty pinch of salt. The nice lady with the perpetual smile told me that my russet potatoes would be cooked to a delicately tender state after simmering for only twenty minutes. It took my Sear’s range a full thirty minutes just to bring the water to a simmer. Forty-five minutes later the potatoes were tender enough to be put through their paces in my potato ricer. Trying to work quickly and not get scalded too badly by the hot potatoes I managed to pipe them onto a cooking sheet and into the oven at somewhere near 400 degrees. I put the steaks into a hot skillet and went to work on the curried peas. Following the recipe I dutifully made a roux that resembled something a diarrheic dog might leave on my sidewalk. Adding peas, beef broth, and powdered curry let me believe I was on my way to a meal worth bragging about. I later learned a good deal about curry powder and that is; a little curry powder goes a long, long way.

Finally, almost three hours after starting the meal was ready and I called my wife to the table. If the state department ever needs a skilled diplomat I want to recommend my wife. She sweetly said that the meal was very good as she crunched tough overcooked duchess potatoes; a result of being extruded too thinly through a pastry pipe. She even had a second helping of the eye-watering curried peas.

In return I did most of the dishes. That brings me to today’s final learning experience about cooking. Cooking for two is difficult enough with the normal problems of shopping for two. But it is exacerbated by the mess you make. I have found that the amount of dishes is inversely proportional to the number of people you cook for. The utensil to person ratio is greater as the number of people decreases. Cooking for fifteen only increases the amount of dishes by the plates, cups and silverware necessary to serve a greater number of people.

Next Sunday – Pizza!