The Cookies that Made Me Want to Get Married

Make at Your Own Peril Do not confuse with the Weed Hybrids Known as Cookies

I first met Melanie Jane when she was in the third grade, and I was thirty-five. Oh, snap, a really bad Alabama politician joke (Southerners will get that one). Actually, I was in the sixth grade, so I qualified as a much older kid. We were in line at what we called our lunchroom, and I saw her. I told her she resembled her sister my age, and her response was to stick her tongue out at me. Thus our relationship began.

I finally asked her out right before I graduated from High School, and headed off to UA. We became inseparable in no time. After a few dates, she asked me if I would like her mother to bake me some cookies. It was impossible to refuse.

With and Without Raisins

After about five cookies from the mountain that her mother made, I had an epiphany: There were many things I could do with my life that were worse than eating food like this for years. In short, I was a goner. It didn’t hurt any that there was a beautiful and highly intelligent young woman sitting next to me, while I swined away (she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college).

At any rate, here’s the recipe, updated a bit.

Ingredients

1/2 cup Sugar (Honey would be a good substitute)

1/4 cup Butter

1 Egg

3/4 cup Oats

A pinch of Salt

1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

3/4 cup AP Flour

1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder

1/4 cup Milk

1/2 cup Raisins

1/2 cup Pecans

Cream together the butter, sugar, and egg. Then add the dry ingredients, and finally the milk. Bake 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree F oven. Then get ready to pig out. This makes about 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

A few weeks ago we received as a gift the original recipe, engraved on a bamboo cutting board, in the handwriting of MJ’s late mother, Agnes Olga, who baked the original mountain of cookies. It came from the very sister whose comparison caused MJ to stick her tongue out at me. I’m sure I wouldn’t mind having my legacy being great food.

Hoya! Don’t use Sawdust in a Chicken Coop

Once again, the chicken experts on the interwebs have struck Hoya! I have now been told that sawdust is deadly to chickens. Tell that to the more than 100,000 chickens that we had while I was growing up. Admittedly, they all now are dead, but blame that on the soup company they were sent to, to be beheaded.

I shoveled untold truck loads of sawdust for our nest boxes, and the birds didn’t have a problem with it, as they turned out far more than a million hatching eggs. I personally filled up the nesting boxes, and gathered most of the eggs.

For those who are not familiar with Hoya!, it’s the stuff you don’t want to step in when you’re in the horse’s stable. The interwebs is et up with Hoya.

Five Easy Pieces–PVC Chicken Feeder

Apologies to Jaaaack Nichooooolson

If you have a chop saw or a mitre saw, this is a thirty second project. I have what is probably a lifetime supply of 4″ pvc pipe, left over from the idiots who did our plumbing (they had our main drain running uphill). All I bought was this 4″ wye joint, and some test caps, instead of the more expensive plug ends. It’s only going to hold some chicken feed.

Total cost for this project was less than $15. It cost $250 to get my uphill drain fixed. This can be made in any size, but this one is small, to be fitted into our small coop. Next years project–a pen extension, another coop, and some Bresse chickens. Also an incubator, which I intend to build myself.

I had to include a gratuitous set of my old German tools in the picture, and my new 2″ bowl gouge, from PA. That thing can do some serious damage.

Spinach Quiche, and Hoya!

Stop Making so much Noise in the Bedroom

Siegfried the dog up there is as tired of Hoya! as I am. Don’t inject yourself with Lysol, eat Tide Pods, drink bleach, or try to pour Clorox into your butt. Clorox won’t run uphill anyway. There is this thing called gravity, that Sir Isaac explained to us all.

Hoya! is the term popularized by the great congress person Mo Udall from Arizona, who allegedly had it yelled at him every time he made a promise to his Native American constituents. Then he learned that Hoya! was the stuff you didn’t want to step in inside the horse pen. At least they didn’t call him Walking Eagle, which is a bird so full of stuff that it can’t fly. Only it’s not stuff. It’s more like Hoya!

So I will bore you with another quiche recipe, after that rant, just because I read someone on the interwebs who described herself as a “classically trained chef,” making a Spinach Quiche with a frozen supermarket crust, and a package of frozen spinach. My classical training came from my grandmother Lily, and she would have beaten the Hoya! out of me if I had suggested such a thing. Her specialties were wild rabbit and dumplings, fried rabbit with gravy, fried chicken, any greens (collards, turnip, mustard), and cinnamon rolls. She also made pancakes without a pan.

The last one was the money shot. She would crank up her potbellied coal stove, and wipe off the top with one of her flour sack towels (which she made with her foot powered Singer sewing machine). Then the butter went on, directly on the top, and then the batter she kept in her 1940’s era GE fridge, which she had painted multiple times. The pancakes were always superb, served with Alaga syrup, on Blue Ridge plates. She never bought anything she couldn’t make herself. Old school reigns supreme.

At any rate, here is my completely homemade Spinach Quiche. It’s a springtime thing around here.

Crust that isn’t full of Hoya!

Ingredients

Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed, plus some Pecorino Romano

1 cup cooked local FRESH Spinach

4 Eggs, grown by yours truly (actually, my chickens)

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the crust)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

The spinach is cooked in butter. I could only find King Arthur bread flour, and Gazunga, it made the best crust I have ever eaten. Lily would have been quite proud. And one of my uncles once ate an entire pan of her cinnamon rolls, in one sitting. They were that good. He had to take a nap afterward.

By the way, I bought all of her Blue Ridge plates, made in Tennessee, after she died. I have added to the collection. Here’s my latest addition.

That divided bowl is a beauty. It’s Stanhome Ivy pattern. I made the candlesticks, and the students at Berea College in Kentucky hand wove the placemats. Now it’s time to crack some nuts. Literally.

Deconstructed Turkey

Easter Turkey?

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. In this case, it was Easter Turkey, instead of Easter Ham. I can’t say that I have any reason to complain about the result.

The backstory: I wasn’t about to drive to the BHAM to buy a quality ham, so we fished out a 20+ pound turkey from our freezer, a Christmas gift from MJ’s employer. It was time to go all Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on this bird.

Like Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill, I needed Japanese steel for this job. There are five cuts necessary for this dish, and I pulled out MJ’s massive Japanese cleaver. Cutting off the wing tips, and throwing them into the stock pot, are the two easy ones. Then the thighs/legs come off in one piece each. Finally, the back is removed, and it joins the wing tips in the stock pot. I forgot that the giblets get boiled. Those are for giblet gravy.

Brine the Turkey parts overnight in a standard salty brine, and make the stock and a large skillet full of cornbread to use as the base for the dressing. My cornbread has no flour in it, because I use the fine ground McEwen and Sons organic cornmeal. Other wise, it’s a typical cornbread. The next day, it’s time to reconstruct the bird.

Ready for the Oven

The bird rests on a big pile of Cornbread Dressing, which consists of a regular, crumbled cornbread, egg, turkey stock, cooked celery and onion dressing, with two important additions. A. D. Livingston says include a cup of croutons for some crunch, and my addition is a good hand full of reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms, which are chopped and added after soaking, along with some of the porcini water, to add a little mushroom flavor to the dressing.

Put the bird back together in a manner resembling how it looked before it was dismembered. We also baste ours regularly with melted butter while it cooks, in a 375 degree F oven. That dark brown color is a good indictor of the fowl being cooked through. That big French roasting pan is quite an improvement over the gigantic cast iron skillet we formerly used. All the meaty part of a twenty pound turkey in a ten pound skillet will strain the sturdiest oven rack.

So thanks to Julia and Jacques for forever ending the stuffing of a Turkey cavity. These brined birds stay juicy and tender, and the legs can be removed early, if they cook faster than the breast does. Put them back in to re-warm just before the cooking is finished, and you once again have a reconstructed Deconstructed Turkey.

Imperia 150 Pasta Machine

Get the Sauce Ready

Thomas Jefferson loved pasta. He and his chef James Hemings are said to have introduced macs and cheese–or at very least, popularized it– to North America, and for years he and his family imported pounds and pounds of pasta every year from Italy. Undoubtedly, the first American recipe for macs and cheese was in one of his relative’s cookbooks, Mary Randolph’s 1824 book, The Virginia Housewife.

Jefferson also owned a pasta machine, which was purchased in Naples. His description of it is as follows:

The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, and not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. A paste is made with flour, water and less yeast than is used for making bread. This paste is then put, by little at a time, viz. about 5. or 6. lb. each time into a round iron box ABC, the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF, comes out, and forms the Maccaroni g.g.g. which, when sufficiently long, are cut and spread to dry. The screw is turned by a lever inserted into the hole K, of which there are 4. or 6. It is evident that on turning the screw one way, the cylindrical part F. which fits the iron box or mortar perfectly well, must press upon the paste and must force it out of the holes. LLM. is a strong wooden frame, properly fastened to the wall, floor and cieling of the room.

N.O. is a figure, on a larger scale, of some of the holes in the iron plate, where all the black is solid, and the rest open. The real plate has a great many holes, and is screwed to the box or mortar: or rather there is a set of plates which may be changed at will, with holes of different shapes and sizes for the different sorts of Maccaroni.

Papers of Thomas Jefferson

So even back in the day there were machines for making pasta, and the Greeks said that the god Hephaestus/Vulcan himself made the first one. I’ll stick with this Italian made Imperia machine.

Double Cutter

The double cutters are particularly handy, and this one makes both spaghetti and linguini. A large number of single cutters are available also.

Single Cutter

This cutter makes pappardelle, a nice thick pasta for equally thick sauces. The machine itself can make sheet pasta in six different thicknesses.

Parts and Pieces

The machine did not come with an instruction manual (naturally), so I had to jimmy with it to see the options. The dough tray clips to the front, which is the side the sheet pasta comes out of. The front will also hold a single cutter. The back side works best with the double cutter. Or, you could just leave all that stuff off, and make sheet pasta at the thinnest setting, or even dumplings, at the thickest setting.

Lasagna Sheet

Bill Buford wrote that the Italian introduction of the egg into pasta making was their greatest contribution. I nominate this machine for second place.

Making Mayo

The Good Stuff

After putting it off for years, I finally learned how to make mayo. It turned out to be very simple, IF you have fresh eggs, and a stand mixer. I am being slowly covered by an avalanche of eggs, coming from our chicks, and I have a 30+ year old Kitchenaid, so it was time for this confluence to happen. This recipe also let me get rid of three eggs. Read some of Julia Child’s thoughts and experiences making mayo, for pointers.

Ingredients (all should be at room temperature)

3 Eggs (not just yolks)

Salt to Taste

Juice of half a Lemon

1 and 1/2 cups of Vegetable Oil (I used Peanut)

Most recipes call for a mild olive oil, but I live in peanut, not olive, country, so I went local. It worked well–the best supermarket brand of mayo uses soybean oil!

Grab the wire whisk attachment for the stand mixer, and beat the hell out of the eggs, at highest speed, for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt, and then SLOWLY add the oil, a drop at a time at first. The more oil you add, the thicker the mayo will get, until you add too much, which apparently causes the mayo to break. If it does, throw in another egg, and slog on.

This process takes some time, but the result is this-3/4 of a quart of mayo.

Now I have another processed food to take off my grocery list. The chickens get an extra treat today.

Linguine alla Carbonara

The great Calvin Trillin once joked that the national Thanksgiving dish should be Spaghetti Carbonara, instead of turkey. I decided to make some, because of that, and I hated it. We still have turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then last week, Melanie Jane said we had to use some of the increasing pile of eggs that our chicks produce, and she found a recipe from Lidia Bastianich for Linguine alla Carbonara. I made it, and it was literally one of the best things I have ever eaten.

The difference? Instead of supermarket bacon and eggs, I had local fresh bacon which I had marinated myself, and eggs from our chicks. The dish is very simple to make.

Ingredients

Pasta Water (Water as salty as sea water)

Linguine (dry or fresh)

Two slices of thick Bacon

1/2 of a small Onion, chopped

Chicken Stock

Two Egg Yolks

Grated Parmesan Cheese

This sextet of ingredients will taste like a symphony if cooked properly. Start with the pasta water, and fry the bacon in a brasier/pasta pan (not pot). Here’s ours, but a skillet will work fine as well.

That’s French for Crucible

The ladies who own our local Le Creuset store in Birmingham picked this one out for me, so my addled brain was not taxed. When I told them it was a present for my sweetie, they went through an entire stack of boxes, to find the best one. I left as a happy consumer.

Fry the bacon while the pasta is cooking. Remove the bacon when it is crisp, but keep the fat, and cook the onions in that. Add a little chicken stock, and I mean a little, and add the chopped bacon, and the pasta (strained) once it becomes al dente. Is Al Dente related to Al Fresco?

Stir those together, and then here comes the only tricky part. Turn off the stove and add the raw yolks. Yes, I said raw yolks. If the heat is just right, the hot sauce and pasta will cook the yolks. If too hot, you have scrambled egg pasta. Too cool, and it’s yuck city.

Grate some good Parmesan over the whole thing, and there you have it. I splurged on some real Reggiano. That didn’t hurt any either.

As long as our chicks keep clucking, this is on the permanent menu. I had five eggs from six birds yesterday, and it appears home made mayo is the next project. Or anything else that uses eggs.

Mildewed Eggs and Other Hoya about Chickens

Eggs not molding

I have been amazed by the number of stories about mildewed eggs on the interwebs, about eggs that have mildewed both on the inside and outside of the shell. While I am certain that could happen if you left the eggs out for six months or a year or so, I have this to say about that–Hoya!

As a teen, I gathered upwards of a thousand eggs, literally ever day, as we had ten thousand chickens who laid hatching eggs. We were forbidden from washing the eggs by our corporate masters, as that would have affected the hatching rate. We never had a single egg with mildew, and I am guessing that I personally gathered tens of thousands of eggs.

Now that I have downsized to a flock of six happy chicks, I read a quote from a chicken prof who said that eggs taken out of a fridge and then stored in the kitchen, would mildew. Hoya! Anything will mildew if you leave it out long enough.

Just eat the eggs, the fresher the better.

Traditional Farmer’s Omelette with All Local Ingredients

Bauernomlett

To celebrate a drought busting two inches of rain, and to challenge myself, I decided to make a Farmer’s Omelette the traditional German way, using only local ingredients. In fact, they were so local that all but one ingredient came from within a hundred feet of our front door.

The brilliance of this recipe is that it only calls for three main ingredients–bacon, potatoes, and eggs. Everything else is optional, and subject to improvisation. This is a jazz recipe, and I always follow my use what you have rule. Here is today’s version.

Ingredients

One slice Bacon

One skillet full of Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed

Four Eggs

Two small Tomatoes, chopped

One sweet Banana Pepper, chopped

Garlic Chives, chopped

Salt and Pepper

The only ingredient we didn’t grow ourselves was the bacon, which came from just across the Mulberry River, from my home county of Cullman. The county happens to be named after its founder Colonel Johannes Gottfried Kullman, though he was actually a Colonel in one of the failed German state revolutions of 1848. Hence his removal to the United States.

This is also no ordinary bacon

Marinated Fresh Bacon

The bacon is so large that eight slices made a pound, and I had to cut one slice into three pieces just to make it fit my omelette skillet. These slices of fresh bacon were marinated for six days in a Saumure Anglaise.

The German method of cooking this is to fry the bacon while simmering the potatoes in water for eight to ten minutes. The bacon is then removed from the skillet, and the potatoes are browned in the bacon fat. I added the peppers as well. Chop up the bacon, and mix the eggs. I put my tomatoes and garlic chives in with the eggs, and then the bacon. When the potatoes begin to brown, add the egg mixture, and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients.

I did depart from the norm, and finished the omelette in the oven at 400 degrees F. While I cooked, Melanie Jane turned on Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto. We ate while listening to one of my favorite recordings, the Bavarian State Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, conducted by the incomparable Carlos Kleiber. We also had a Bavarian flag hanging off the balcony above our dining room table, in honor of Oktoberfest. One of our semi-domesticated wolves, aka a dog, ate the leftovers.

As the salt was not mined, nor the peppercorns picked, anywhere locally, I will admit that this was only ninety nine percent local. But that is still ninety nine percent better than food that has been trucked across a continent.