By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Oct 04, 2009 at 9:03 AM
October is the third annual Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."

Milwaukee is a great city for foodies. We have incredible restaurants and world-class chefs. We have food for every possible taste. You can go fancy, you can go quick and easy.

It's a paradise for diners, as evidenced by our protruding waistlines.

But growing up, my family rarely, if ever, went to those establishments. We had no need to and, fortunately, still don't. It just so happened -- and forgive my blatant and unashamed bias -- we had the best chef in town right under our own roof: My great-grandmother.

Oma, as we call her, has lived in the upper portion of my mother's duplex since before I was born. Growing up, we immediately knew something good was awaiting us when we opened the front door after school and caught a whiff of her kitchen.

Aside from the random nights when Oma would make something for all of us at home, we'd also get the whole clan together. At least once a month, we'd go to my grandparents' house for a family dinner. My brother, sister, mother and I, along with my cousins, aunt and uncles would all be there and Oma, with the help of the younger generations, would reign over the kitchen.

I watched intently as she rolled noodle dough. It was amazing to me then, and still is today. She'd mix, knead and roll the dough before cutting it into perfectly even strips. She'd stack them up and then start cutting with a precision and rapid rhythm that even today boggles my mind.

Now 95 -- she'll be 96 later this month -- Oma is still using her beat up old pots, pans and dishes to make magical dishes that awaken my taste buds. To this day, I have a constant craving for her homemade chicken soup; anytime I even feel a hint of a cold coming on, I whip up a massive batch of this simple specialty and it usually buys me a few more days before I'm a slobbering, couch-ridden mess.

Many times, I've asked her to write down her recipes but it wasn't until I started learning first-hand did I truly understand how impossible such a feat is. I've marveled at her ability to season and spice to taste, how to measure by hand and how to cook without a recipe.

While she excels as a cook, she's even better as a teacher. I returned to Milwaukee after several years in 2003. I moved in with her for a while to save a little money and, honestly, spend some time together. I learned how to make the simple, basic favorites and now, I'm fortunate enough to share them my friends.

I mastered the art of her Goulash; even adjusting the recipe to suit my own tastes (lots and lots and lots of paprika) and can also make the accompanying noodles from scratch. It's become a staple dish for gatherings at my house and it even got Oma's seal of approval and an admission that it's better than my mother's.

Last Christmas, I decided to invite my family over (an experience I wrote about) for holiday dinner and homemade Schnitzel. The best Christmas present I got last year? Seeing the look of satisfaction and pride on Oma's face as she enjoyed a dish I prepared; one I learned under her tutelage.

I've made it a personal goal to learn how to make "kipfel," which can best be described as something like a salted, baked breadstick ... a tremendous snack.

I know I'm not alone; many of us are fortunate enough to have enjoyed homemade dishes throughout our lives. Milwaukee's wonderful dining variety is built on its immigrant heritage. People came from all around the world to make this city not only their home, but also a special place. German, Irish, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Asian, Serbian ... it's all here.

Do yourself a favor. If you're lucky enough to have your "Old World" relatives around, spend a few hours in their kitchen. Watch. Take notes. Learn.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorite "Oma Recipes." They're nothing fancy, really. Just the dishes that I grew up on and I hope to capture some of the flavor and uniqueness that makes these dishes standout.

And by all means, if you've got a favorite dish, use the Talkback feature below or, better yet; use the Readers' Blogs to share the recipe with everybody. Until then, "Guten Appitet!"