The Times West Virginian

My Favorite Recipe

July 20, 2011

All in the seasonings

FAIRMONT — Bobbi Kozul’s got this recipe for hot dog sauce you could call a work in progress.

She’s been working on it for the past 30 years or so, and she thinks she’s finally got it down pat.

“I always just dumped or sprinkled the ingredients. Then it would turn out different each time. ‘It doesn’t taste the same,’ people’d say. When my kids grew up and moved out, they wanted the recipe. So then I had to measure it,” she said with a grin.

“Now I have it to where everybody really likes it.”

Her first try at it was almost like a lesson in how to not make hot dog sauce.

“That first recipe was funny. It was just ground beef, but all I added was salt, pepper and ketchup. It didn’t taste very good at all.”

So next time she added some garlic powder, chili powder, tomato sauce ... and ketchup for thickener. She learned to boil the meat in water, not brown it, in just the right amount of water so that it’s not too thick and not too thin. And just skim the grease off as it rises to the top.

Here’s the important part: The sauce tastes better a day or two after you make it, she said.

“It will really taste good because your seasonings marry in the sauce and give it a really good flavor.”

You can make the sauce mild, hotter or “breathing fire” hot, she said. Just depends on the crowd.

She started tinkering with the recipe after she moved to Ohio, where hot dog sauce and pepperoni buns might as well be from Mars.

“They didn’t know anything about them. Then we moved to Connecticut, and they hadn’t heard of them either. So I just kept trying to make mine taste good.

“My fiancé, who could turn into a hot dog, is always telling me I should open my own hot dog stand! What a compliment to any cook!” she said.

She eventually returned to her native Marion County with her children, Maresa and Robert, now 28 and 26.

She also makes pretty good spaghetti sauce and lasagna, says Bill Phillips, her fiancé.

The lasagna is a multi-day process, she said.

“You make the sauce at least three to four days in advance. Then, one to two days before, you cook up your meat and onions and garlic, and put them in the sauce. Then you make your noodles and cook it. It’s all about the seasonings intermingling with your meat to get that good taste.”

The eldest of 10 siblings, she likes to see a full table.

“When we had dinner, the whole family was around the table, sharing the day’s activities,” she said. “And even though we were all busy doing our own thing, at the end of the day, everybody came together as a family. This encourages the cook because that’s how you get them all together.”

Every once in a while, inspired to do something different, she turns to her cabinet of cookbooks in search of a new recipe.

“That may go over or it may not. If it’s not good, which has happened a few times, you just dump it out and do something else.

“My mother, Joyce Schleicher, is a great cook. She learned early on how to make meals stretch. And she did a pretty good job. My grandfather always encouraged me to be in the kitchen because he loved to cook, too. But he made odd things you wouldn’t find in a restaurant, like turtle soup or rabbit stew. I like to make deer meatballs and not tell people what they are,” she said with a laugh.

Thanksgiving is held at her house every year. She’ll make the turkey and mashed potatoes, dressing and green beans for the crowd of 32, while others bring more side dishes.

Phillips grew up on a farm, and is used to as much homemade food as he can get.

“Homemade bread, potatoes and some kind of meat. Always. That’s how I grew up.

“Her food is really good,” he said, patting his tummy. “I don’t complain about it one bit. I’m not a small man, but I like to eat. And when she cooks, I overdo it all the time. It’s all good.”

For medical reasons, he can’t have his beloved fried foods anymore, so Kozul makes her food tasty and healthy, too.

Even though they’re grown and out of the house, her children will still call to see what’s for dinner.

“Their favorite question, and I just laugh, is, ‘What is it that you made?’ Maybe they’ll come for dinner and maybe not. Depends on what I fix.”

She’s carrying on the family tradition of home cooking with her niece, little Maddie Gump.

“When she comes to stay, we have to make something because she’s learning to cook, too. She loves brownies. I wanted to make them the light way, with applesauce and not oil, but, well, she was having none of that. ‘That’s not the recipe,’ she said. So we have to go exactly by the recipe for Miss Maddie. She has her little bonnet and apron, and gets things all over the table, but she does a good job.”

Her spaghetti sauce, flavored with peppers and sausage, is her favorite, and others’, too.

“I work for surgeons and when I bring it in in a Crock-Pot, one of the surgeons, even if he’s in surgery, will come up and make sure he gets some of that.”

Bill’s favorite?

“I’ve got a list,” he said, laughing. “I love her lasagna and her hot dog sauce and her stuffed shells. Everything she cooks is good. Whatever she cooks is basically my favorite.”

Although her maiden name is Schleicher, she comes by her Italian cuisine honestly.

“My grandmother was Italian,” she said. “I guess that all filtered down.”

They celebrate Christmas Eve at the home of one of her sisters.

“They cook the feast of the seven fishes. She’s an amazing cook, much better than I could be. She makes things restaurants would serve. You just don’t eat a week before you go ... or after,” she said laughing.

The contest for July is hot dog sauce. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or

Email Debra Minor Wilson at

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