For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
Kitchen inventions are crafted by people of all different cooking levels, not just foodies and gourmets, because it’s fun to blow off recipes once in a while and concoct new food items – even though some work out better than others. (Sorry, the linguini with marshmallows and chocolate sauce was a fail.)
Wendy Melnick’s food invention won her a trip to the East Coast. Twenty years ago, she entered a contest sponsored by Louis Rich / Oscar Mayer. The contest required entrants to create a sandwich with a Louis Rich deli meat and then to write an essay about it.
Melnick came up with The Melnick Lombada Croissant, a grilled, open-face croissant sandwich topped with Louis Rich turkey, pepper jack cheese, spicy mustard and avocado, and served with a side of ranch dressing.
"I literally made it up in my head spontaneously based on what I thought sounded delicious," says Melnick. "I had never actually made the sandwich before."
Two months later, Melnick received a phone call and learned she was one of five finalists in the contest and that she and a guest were invited on an all-expense paid trip to Sandwich, Mass., for the final competition featuring a $10,000 prize.
"At first I thought someone was yanking my chain," says Melnick. "Then I realized it was really happening, so I went to the store and bought all of the ingredients for my sandwich. ‘God, I hope this is good,’ I was saying to myself. Luckily, it was delicious."
Melnick and a friend flew to the Naval Academy in Sandwich where she presented the sandwich to a panel of judges. She did not win.
"A Montana housewife and her mango chutney pita won the contest," says Melnick. "To this day the words ‘mango’ and ‘chutney’ get stuck in my craw."
Emily Bertholf’s six-year-old son, Van, invented a food item two years ago: the peanut butter and jelly taco.
"I have three children and we eat tacos fairly regularly. My husband always asks what the children want on their tacos. Van said, ‘Oh, tacos again! Can I have peanut butter and jelly on mine?’" says Bertholf.
At first, the family laughed, but then Bertholf’s husband got out the peanut butter and jelly and then asked him what else he wanted on his taco. Van picked lettuce, celery, tomatoes and red peppers.
"It's been two years and that's still how he eats his taco: a soft taco with peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, celery, tomato and red bell peppers," says Bertholf.
Tia Simoni came up with a fairly unique way to eat peanut butter and jelly, too. She prefers hers on rye bread and grilled. The sandwich, which is now a staple food item in her house, first happened out of resourcefulness.
"I only had those foods around in the bad old days just after my divorce. Basically, I was tired after work, tired of talking and tired of peanut butter on a spoon as a meal so I rejiggered my staple," says Simoni. "People usually think it's weird until they try it, then they're converts. It’s perfect as single person or kid food."
Simoni recommends non-sugary jams or preserves and creamy peanut butter.
"I like a good rye because it's got a zing that really complements the sweet stuff. And, of course, a cast-iron skillet is ideal," she says.
In the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, Larry Johnson, a curious kid at the time, put a warm bottle of cola in the freezer to chill it before listening to the Braves game on the radio.
"When I opened it up it had turned to perfect slush, top to bottom. And it didn't explode like I've had happen hundreds of time since," says Johnson.
Johnson says he's seen cola slushes many places in more recent years, but at the time, he believed he had invented it. He went on as he got older to invent a beer slush, too.
"I like beer (partially frozen) since I was 18," says Johnson.
Johnson says he can’t take credit for inventing the french fries on a burger, but he has done that for decades, along with putting potato chips on his sandwich.
"It’s nice and crunchy," he says.
Eileen Harnett Teska created a signature version of chili after reading about 100 chili recipes and experimenting with many different combinations until she found one her husband really loves.
"The irony is I don't eat chili myself. I don't like spicy foods and beans don't like me," says Teska.
Her chili has received rave reviews from chili lovers in Texas and Arizona and she even studied a Texas map to find a good name for it: Comanche Creek Chili.
"The surprise ingredient is cocoa powder," she says.
Lori LaGrow started corning her own beef and grinding her own burger meat a few years ago. One day, she decided to combine the two and created a Reuben burger.
"I grind the freshly corned beef to make Reuben meat. If you don't like 100 percent brisket you can add other meat but you will definitely need to add ground corning spices," says LaGrow.
The Reuben burger is then stuffed with dried sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Sometimes she tops it with more cheese, horseradish or thousand island dressing and serves it on a rye roll for what she calls The Ultimate Reuben Burger.
"I have looked online and never seen anything like this burger," says LaGrow.
Michael Schmidt, who owned the now-defunct Bella’s Fat Cat chain, co-invented a burger for 102.1 FM’s Kramp and Adler when they were still a morning team a few years ago.
"I believe it was Brian who said ‘How about a burger with a brat on it?’ I put together a few variations, Kramp and Adler had a ‘taste test’ and the final combination was decided on," says Schmidt. "The key was the Miller Bakery Pretzel Bun. They are everywhere now, but Brian Miller literally came to me one day and said "I'm trying out this pretzel bun, tell me what you think.’"
The Kramp & Adler was sold at all Bella's as a Burger of the Month but Schmidt says many customers wanted it to be an everyday menu item.
Sometimes invention is as simple as combining new pizza toppings. Harvey Opgenorth, a former Milwaukeean who is now a resident of Los Angeles, was eating lunch in Little Tokyo when he got the idea to put pickled ginger on cheese pizza.
"I wanted to mix my homeland with my adopted city. It sounded disgusting enough to try and it ended up being a pretty good combination. It feels like college bachelor cuisine," says Opgenorth. "Also, it seems like I always have a cheese pizza in the freezer and pickled ginger in the fridge."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.