Four French Hens

Proper Eggs need a Proper Basket

I don’t know the name of the sadist who wrote that never-ending Christmas song, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but I fixed it by buying four French hens. To be precise, four ISA Browns. They could easily bury any of us in an avalanche of eggs.

Ethel the Brown Guards the Mail

These birds are hybrids, and bred to lay more eggs than a large family can eat. We are currently supplying five families with eggs, with only eight chicks, four Browns and four Barred Rocks. Do the math.

Ethel: “This is my Best Side.”

They are also remarkably handsome birds. There must be a passage in the French constitution, after all that stuff about liberty and equality ( thank Mr. Jefferson and Monsieur Lafayette for that,) that all French exports must look great. I don’t have a problem with that.

Christmas advice: Buy American Cast Iron! Buy German Tools! Buy French anything that has to do with Food! Have a Joyous Noel!

Grillades with Mushroom Brown Sauce

Accidentally Making Great Food

If you do the right thing, Karma will treat you right. MJ and I have given away so many eggs that we are getting free food in return. Long live bartering.

Case in point was the cooler full of locally grown beef that one brother-in-law gave us, and the cow was grown by yet another brother-in-law. In the pile of meat were a couple of packs of cube steak, something I had never eaten before, and usually associated with greasy spoon diners. Then I read on the interwebs that good quality cube steak is really round steak that has been pounded flat for tenderizing. This was of the best quality, and I immediately thought: Grillades.

Turning round steak into a Grillade is the classic Southern way of turning inexpensive meat into a thing a beauty, and is sometimes referred to as fried meat a la Creole. I adapted the recipe for Grillades with Gravy from the latest reprint of the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book, and the result was unbelievably good.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Bacon Fat (Grandmother Lilian’s trick)

1/2 Onion, chopped

1 clove Garlic, diced

1 tablespoon Flour

4 inch squares of pounded Round Steak, seasoned highly with Salt and Pepper

6 large Mushrooms, sliced, and sauteed in Bacon Fat, Lard, Butter, or Oil

Water

The recipe in the cook book uses tomatoes instead of mushrooms, but we won’t have good fresh tomatoes here for a while, and I had bunches of shrooms. Begin by cooking the onion in the bacon fat for about a minute. When they begin to soften, add the garlic. Cook until you can smell the garlic but DO NOT burn it.

Add the flour, and begin the basis for a brown roux, aka a gravy. Stir regularly, as a roux is also known as “Creole Napalm.” When you get to a brown color to your liking, add the Grillades to the top of the roux, along with the mushrooms. Add the water and stir. Mine looked like this.

Simmer Time!

That’s my favorite heavy cast iron skillet. Close it about 7/8 of the way with an equally heavy cast iron lid. Stir regularly, because even with the stove set at the lowest setting, this sauce will stick and burn, and the dish is ruined. Add more water when the gravy begins to thicken excessively. Simmer a minimum of thirty minutes, though we just cook ours until it is completely tender. This cooked forty or forty five minutes.

Serve over Louisiana, or any other good, rice, and garnish with chopped parsley, unless you enjoy food that is just really brown. That was served on one of Grandmother Lilian’s Tennessee made plates. Leftovers made the best steak and biscuit with gravy, the next morning, in history.

Grillades. It’s what’s for supper.

The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, 1901 Edition Reprint

I love people who hate on Amazon and our corporate overlord Bezos, when I know that they are buying like crazy from them. Life these days would be nearly impossible without them.

I have been saving writing about this cookbook for a couple of years now, and this is only a teaser. I’ll begin with the modest assertion that this is the greatest cookbook ever written (or at least it’s my favorite). You are allowed to ask why.

First, thanks to archduke Bezos, I was able to purchase a mint quality hardback of the 1989 version of the book for $3 plus change. It is expertly edited by a great cookbook writer herself, Marcelle Bienvenu, who wrote the definitive cookbook on Cajun cooking, Who’s Your Mama…? And please don’t confuse Creole food with Cajun food, unless you want to get laughed at.

Then, the recipes are superb, especially the meat recipes for chicken, beef, and Gulf seafood, as well as every vegetable imaginable. There is even a suggestion about how to serve broiled Robins or Larks–this one is not suggested by me, but the recommendation is to serve your songbirds on buttered French toast, and garnish with parsley.

The last mystery was as to who wrote this mammoth book (this latest version is 629 pages). An intrepid young scholar at Tulane University named Rien Fertel has determined that the author was one Marie Louise Points, a writer for the Picayune, who was “from a white, French-Creole family in New Orleans; her ancestors were from Virginia and around the Gulf Coast.” This is a common enough history, as my two favorite “Louisiana” writers came from Missouri and Alabama, respectively.

Bienvenu took the interesting approach of using the recipes from the second edition, but the introduction to the first edition. Anyone who has a copy of the second edition knows why. The second edition has an introduction that contains every racist stereotype that one would expect from the city that brought us legalized segregation with the case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896–only four years before this book was first published. Fortunately, when it comes to the kitchen, all women and men are created equal.

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.

Florida Possum Outdoes both Florida Man and Florida Woman

You can't stop the party possum because the party possum don't stop.
I just wanna go home

This Fort Walton Beach possum allegedly stole a $30 bottle of good French Cognac from a liquor store, and drank it all. It was given fluids (?), and relocated to a wildlife refuge. Whether or not it went through rehab is not reported.

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.

Uncured Bacon in a Saumure Anglaise

That’s an English Pickle, for the Francophobes

Joel Salatin, aka “The world’s most famous farmer,” up there in Virginia, wrote an entire book about “the pigness of pigs.” Yesterday at the Festhalle farmer’s market I ran across one of my favorite sellers, a young woman who usually has one of her five children with her (this is Alabama). Instead, she had a big cooler full of fresh local pork that she had grown. Here was some real pigness of the best kind.

When she said she had fresh uncured bacon, I nearly had an infarction. I bought a pound, and she instructed me about how to cure it. My response was I always use a Saumure Anglaise when I cured pork like that.

Now, everyone usually looks at you like you are a snake with two heads when you use French in this part of the South, as opposed to New Orleans or Mobile, the two oldest French cities in the region. However, she looked impressed, and said I obviously knew what I was doing. I told her this wasn’t my first rodeo.

Here’s my version of this Saumure, adapted from Jane Grigson’s monumental book on French charcuterie.

Ingredients

Water

Handful of Salt

Handful of Brown Sugar

One Bay Leaf

Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Peppercorns

Four Cloves

Fragment of whole Nutmeg

I omitted the nitrates (pink salt) from this recipe, as this is going to be eaten in short order. Boil this combo, and then let it steep until cool. Pour it over the bacon or other fresh pork you have, and throw it into the fridge.

For how long? That depends on how brave you are. I let mine go for at least a couple of days, and thicker pieces, like fresh ham slices, for around six. Sugar and salt are decent preservatives on their own, and I’m still kicking, so there’s anecdotal evidence to prove it’s not deadly to avoid the nitrates. Just check out some of the furry Italian sausages sometimes to see if nitrates have to be used.

The bacon will not be furry, but it will be tasty. And it will be cured the natural way.

Remoulade Sauce, Two Ways

Remoulade sauce in the South is used on everything from salads to shrimp. I make two versions, one for salads, and one for mostly seafood dishes, including the fabulous fried catfish po boy. We’ll start with the simple version.

Ingredients

Mayonnaise

Dijon Mustard

Ketchup

Lemon Juice

Salt

I usually only make enough of this for one meal at a time, so I stick to a ratio of four parts of mayo to one part each of mustard, ketchup, and lemon, and then salt to taste. A sweet Bavarian mustard is also excellent in this, if you can find it. You can also add sweet pickle relish.

And then there is the savory version:

Ingredients

Mayonnaise

Creole Mustard

Ketchup

Lemon Juice

Salt

Dill Pickle, chopped finely

Scallions, chopped finely

Parsley, chopped

Capers, chopped

Tabasco Sauce, to taste

This one is more traditionally Southern, as it has some kick to it, hot, salty, and sour. I just made some fermented Garlic Dill Pickles, and I can’t wait to add some of those to this recipe. Proportions of the four main ingredients should be roughly the same as the first version, and the others are a matter of taste. I go light on the pickles and capers.

I have all the makings for a fried catfish po boy for this upcoming holiday weekend, except for some good Carolina Classic catfish. Time for a run to the market.

Mouli Parsmint, aka Herb Shredder

Hot day for Shredding

When it’s eighty nine degrees F at noon, you wander around in your air conditioned kitchen looking at all the various weirdness you have collected over the years. Hanging on our wall was an honest to god French made herb shredder, a Mouli Parsmint. It’s actually something of a bad mother.

It may resemble a wheelbarrow, but this thing can shred some leaves. Put in some herbs, and crank it up.

The French, They are so Clever

It also pops open, so it can be cleaned. I really should make more pesto every year.