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Monday, April 22, 2019


Debut mystery author Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language interpreter, scone baker, half-marathon runner, chocolate lover, Hufflepuff, wife & mom, dog petter, and Husker fan. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

When Cassandra Sato, the main character in Death by Dissertation, moves from big city Hawai'i to rural Nebraska, she expects the food to taste foreign. After all, growing up on an island, she was used to fresh seafood, sushi, and Spam— the comfort food in a can. The only fish she's likely to find in Nebraska comes from a stream or the freezer.

One of the first unusual meals she encounters is a German concoction called a Bierock. They're meat and cabbage stuffed in yeast bread hand-pies. Cassandra is surprised to discover there's a Midwest-famous restaurant chain with a devoted fan base of Bierock-loving Nebraskans called Runza. (Definitely stop there if you're ever driving I-80 through Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, or Colorado.) Cassandra's hesitant at first, but soon grows to like them, especially when she realizes one can double as a hand-warmer during chilly fall football Saturdays.

If you're not from the Midwest, likely you've never heard of Bierocks either, but I promise they are delicious. They also freeze well and make for easy picnic or potluck food. No fork required.

When my family didn’t live in Nebraska, our first stop after arriving at the airport was always the Runza restaurant drive-thru for a hometown meal of delicious, hot Runza and Frings (a genius combination of fries and onion rings).

Occasionally, we hosted a football watch party or got a craving for them when we couldn't buy the real thing. Over the years, I’ve tried many different Bierock recipes. This one incorporates whole-wheat flour and Greek yogurt to make a quick, healthy breaded crust for a traditional, Nebraska Bierock. My favorite are the Swiss Mushroom Bierocks, but you can change up the cheese if you want a different twist using American, Provolone & peppers for a Philly Bierock, or Pepperjack for a more southwest flavor.

Quick & Healthy Bierocks (homemade Nebraska Runzas)
Featuring a whole-wheat, no-yeast dough, these Swiss Mushroom Bierocks take less than an hour start to finish. They are great for football tailgate parties, potlucks, or Husker ex-pats who miss eating our beloved Runzas.

Serves 8

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2 T. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb. ground beef
1 med. onion, chopped
1 bag coleslaw mix
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. seasoned salt
8 slices Swiss cheese (optional)
8 small baby Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare a large baking sheet with foil and cooking spray or parchment paper. (Less clean-up later, you’re welcome.)

Brown the hamburger and onions in the largest frying pan you own. You might need 2 medium pans if you don’t have one large enough. If you decide to add the mushrooms, throw them in with the meat and onions.

In a large mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well. Add the yogurt and mix until all of the flour is incorporated into a batter. Knead the dough until it’s dry and elastic (this will take about 1 minute—if it’s super-sticky, you can always add some extra flour). Then, divide the dough into 8 equal size balls. Using your hands or a rolling pin, spread the dough rounds into 6”x4” rectangles. 

Once the meet is browned and the onions and mushrooms are soft, add Worcestershire, oregano, seasoned salt, and pepper to taste. Now add the whole package of cabbage to the skillet. It might not all fit at once, but stir the bottom bits to the top frequently until the whole thing is lightly stir-fried. Do not overcook the cabbage. 

Place one slice of Swiss cheese on each of the rolled dough pieces. Some people like American, Provolone, or Pepper Jack cheese instead. Spoon 2 generous spoonfuls of meat on each dough. Roll up the longer sides of the rectangle and pinch them together, then gather the short sides and pinch together. Flip the pinched seams to the bottom. The finished Bierocks should be fairly large and rectangle shaped. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. They are good plain or with ketchup.

Death By Dissertation
Ambitious Cassandra Sato traded her life in Hawai’i for a dream position at Morton College in rural Nebraska. She expected the Midwestern church casseroles, land-locked cornfields, and face-freezing winters would be her biggest challenges, but it’s her job that’s rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A deaf student is dead and the investigation reveals a complicated trail of connections between campus food service, a local farmer’s beef, and the science lab’s cancer research. Together with her few allies, Cassandra must protect the students caught up in the entanglement.

Dealing with homesickness, vandalism, and a stalker, Cassandra is trapped in a public relations disaster that could cost her job, or more. No one said college was easy.

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