Biergarten Tomorrow, July 11, 2019, in Alabama’s Rocket City of Huntsville!

Huntsville, soon to be home to a minor league baseball team named the Rocket City Trash Pandas, has it’s very own Biergarten tomorrow. Best of all, it’s being held at the U. S. Space and Rocket Center there–hence the name “Rocket City.”

Admission is free, so get out your Dirndls and Lederhosen and bring money, because you have to pay for the food and drink. Maybe the Lederhosen is not a great idea at 95 degrees F, but a nice Dirndl is really really nice, any time of the year.

Doors open at 4:30 in the afternoon, and close at 7:30 at night. Prost!

If you miss this one, there will be another July 18, in honor of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Saturn rocket was a Huntsville product.

Taters, Precious

New Potatoes, Precious

We have bought new potatoes three weeks in a row at the Festhalle, our local Farmer’s market, and they really don’t resemble supermarket potatoes in taste, even expensive organic ones. So don’t cook them like supermarket potatoes. Those in the picture are regular Red and Yukon golds.

My favorite cooking method for these: frying. Shocking to hear that from a Southerner. Cut into small cubes is best. These are especially good in the classic Farmer’s Omelet.

Next in line is the classic boiled new potatoes, served in a giant pool of butter and salt. For god’s sake don’t peel these–cook them as is.

In another week or two, I may turn into Mr. Potato Head.

Asparagus with Sour Cream/Mustard Sauce

An Old School French Asparagus Steamer

Whether you like it steamed, sauteed, boiled, roasted, or grilled, my favorite vegetable, asparagus, is about to be in season. It’s almost Spargelzeit, or Asparagus time, as it’s called in Germany, so break out the steamer or grill. Skip the lemon butter and try something different this time–a sour cream mustard sauce. This is as easy to make as any salad dressing.

Ingredients

1/2 cup Sour Cream

1 teaspoon Honey

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Dill Weed

Salt

Mix these together, and chow down. Vary the proportions according to your whims. Sometimes I want more honey, sometimes vinegar, and almost always, more mustard. Someone has to support the mustard farmers of Burgundy, though I hear more mustard comes from Canada these days, instead of France. This also makes a great dipping sauce for almost any raw vegetable, or crudité, since we have gotten all French all of a sudden.

Making Apple Wine

Drink Chilled or on the Rocks, or Mixed with another Beverage

If you have been deluded into thinking that winemaking is some kind of alchemical process, take a little more than ten bucks and make 3.5 liters of Apple Wine. Yes, 3.5 liters of fantastic wine for around ten bucks, and that’s organic wine as well.

Ingredients

One Gallon Glass Jug of Organic Apple Juice

2/3 cup Organic Sugar (more sugar means more alcohol)

One packet Wine Yeast

That’s it. You’ll also need some equipment:

Air Lock, Carboy Bung, and Yeast

The airlock is a fermentation device that lets gases/pressure escape during the fermentation process, but doesn’t let air/contamination back in. That particular carboy bung fits a standard gallon jug, and the hole is for the airlock.

The process is as follows. Remove about one cup of apple juice, and have a drink. Replace with the sugar and yeast, and shake to help dissolve (one packet of yeast will ferment up to five gallons of wine). There are other methods of dissolving the sugar, but this is the simplest. Insert the carboy bung into the jug, fill the airlock to the line with water, insert it, and place your wine-to-be in a 60 something degree room. It will smell like sulphur when it starts to ferment, and the airlock will bubble like a percolator. Don’t panic. Let it ferment for a month or so to let the yeast settle to the bottom of the jug, and then you can bottle the wine, or just leave it for a few more weeks, and then bottle it. Don’t drink the dead yeast at the bottom, by the way.

For the best wine, let it age for a few months, though it makes a great marinade or ingredient as soon as it has fermented. Germans make all sorts of strange concoctions with Apfelwein, especially for summertime drinks. Summertime, you say? Lots of folks need to be reminded of that right now.

Farmer’s Omelette

The Magic that these Four Ingredients can make . . .

What we have here is a slightly southern-ed up version of the classic German all around dish. Though it is thought of as a breakfast item on this side of the pond, it is excellent at any meal. This is a meal for two here, but it can be scaled up to practically any level.

Ingredients

One Slice of Bacon

One Large Potato, cubed

One-Half of an Onion, chopped

Two Eggs

Salt and Pepper

In a heavy cast iron skillet, cook the bacon until it is crisp. Remove the bacon from the skillet, and add the cubed potato while the bacon fat is still hot. If necessary, add some olive oil, though this is usually not necessary. Salt and Pepper. Fry the potatoes until brown, and add the onions. At the same time, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Chop the bacon into small pieces, and add when the onion is almost softened.

Here’s where the Southern accent comes in. Instead of beating the eggs, place the eggs-fried egg, sunny side up style, on opposite sides of the pan. As soon as the eggs begin to set, pop the whole thing into the 400 degree oven. Keep a close watch, and serve while the yolks are still runny, if you want a dish where there won’t be any leftovers. It’s easier to clean up that way.

The variations on this dish are limitless. Add country ham, chives, scallions, garlic, green garlic, chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, or anything else that you have on hand. Adapt it to the seasonal ingredients. That’s what good cooking is all about, anyway.

Germany has a New Wine Queen!

Via Deutsche Welle: 23 year old Carolin Klöckner was named the 2018 Wine Queen on Friday night at the German Wine Institute in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. (For you English out there, that’s “New City on Wine Street.”) This was no beauty pageant; the various German Queens are more P. R. experts than anything else. Klöckner will join the other Queens, like the Beer Queen, the Apple Queens, the Strawberry Queen, and most importantly, the Bavarian Sausage Queen, who wields a scepter of Weisswurst, as the public face of German Agriculture. A country can’t have too many food Queens.

A Field Guide to Southern Hamburgers

HamburgerHamburger meat is on the way. The grinder just needs a few more cranks.

A. D. Livingston, in his great book On the Grill, tells the best hamburger story I have ever read, and it actually qualifies as one of the best stories I’ve ever read, period. It’s a tragi-comic tale of the decline of Southern food, and the Southern diet, both at the same time. It also involves high school football, cheerleaders, and grilled hamburgers. It doesn’t get much more Southern than that.

A. D. has a unique explanation for the year after year success of his local high school football team. It was the hamburgers served at each home game:

Above all else, however, I credit a few good ol’ boy chefs and the great American hamburger. Thick and juicy. Hot and tasty. Grilled to perfection.

Fans from both sides of the gridiron would mob the hamburger venue at the home field, lured in by the smell of ground beef cooking over hickory and charcoal, and the resulting revenue went to support the team.

Just as no good deed goes unpunished, however, all good things come to an end:

But slowly things changed and un-American activities began to gnaw at the spirit of the thing. By the time my son reached varsity football and I was called upon to lend my services as a chef, the situation had really become hopeless.

Locally ground quality beef had been replaced by Sam’s Club type pre-formed burgers. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to eat that garbage. When confronted with that reality, the new head of the Quarterback Club had the following answer for A. D. :

“Look, feller,” he said, fed up with me. “This is a ball game. If people want hamburgers, they’ll go to Hardee’s.”

And in that manner, the South fell again. Only the Southerners who fell this time were all so obese, they couldn’t get back up.

Let’s look at Southern burgers, traveling from East to West.

Carolina Burgers

This is something of a barbecue burger, and I have compiled a list of the most important ingredients. I think of this as being a North Carolina, instead of a South Carolina, burger.

  • Gotta have: Coleslaw, American Cheese
  • Gratuitous meat added: All meat chili
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Anything with coleslaw is good, and I would throw in a slice of dill pickle as well. Be gratuitous.

Pimento and Cheese Burger

Originally a coastal specialty, this burger was something of a craze for awhile, and has spread around the country. Talk about a cheeseburger! Cheese, with peppers and mayo. That’s what I’m talking about.

  • Gotta have: Good Pimento and Cheese, and lots of it, and a slice of tomato
  • Gratuitous meat added: Bacon
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Though this may be a slow motion infarction of a meal, one every so often probably won’t kill you. Probably.

Slug Burger, Penn Burger, Mystery Burger

This is the one I have been wanting to write about, a burger intended to be consumed by the Southern lumpenproletariat. You’re going to have to google that term. This low priced specialty is concentrated in the Tennessee Valley region of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and surrounding environs. The Southern Foodways Alliance has a blog post dedicated to this curiosity. Let’s just say this one is not for everyone.

  • Gotta have: Filler, filler, filler. Usually Soybean Meal, Flour, or Oatmeal, as well as a boatload of condiments, to cover up the taste of the filler
  • Gratuitous meat added: As little as possible
  • Burger: Ground Beef, Pork, or whatever was found dead in the road

My hometown of Cullman was so special that we had TWO Mystery Burger joints, including a C. F. Penn franchise, where they deep fry the burgers. I had my first Mystery Burger when I was about ten, and even my ten year old brain said, “What the f*** is this?” Actually, it was also my last one. Foodies like to talk about “mouthfeel,” a term I find to be borderline obscene. Walk up to someone on the street, and ask, “How is your mouthfeel today?” This thing had the mouthfeel of the refuse from a lumberyard. Hence our family name for it: Sawdust Burger.

Louisiana Burger

How about from the ridiculous to the sublime? I’ve always thought that if Mississippi had not gotten in the way, Louisiana and Alabama would have been like two brothers who lived next to each other, and always tried to best each other at everything, be it good or bad. Corrupt as hell, and football and food crazy, Alabama has the James Beard award winning best restaurant in the country, Highlands Bar and Grill, (Frank Stitt, the owner and Executive Chef, just happens to be from Cullman), and the last I heard, a pretty good football team. Louisiana has chef Donald Link, among others, and LSU ain’t bad at football, either. Here is a short version of Chef John Folse’s Southern/Louisiana Burger:

  • Gotta Have: Egg,  Bread Crumbs, and Parmesan Cheese as a binder
  • Gratuitous meat added: None needed
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Cheese IN the burger? Absolute genius. Whenever we had beef that was too lean back on the farm, we would use egg and flour as a binder. That’s when the connection struck me-it all goes back to the original hamburger from Germany. Donald Link is something of a German Cajun, having ancestors named Zaunbrecher, who helped establish rice farming in Louisiana. Talk about fusion. Talk about good.

The Basic Burger

Let’s get back to the basics, after all of these variations. Hamburger obviously originated in Hamburg, Germany, as Frankfurters originated in Frankfurt, and Wieners in Wien (Vienna). A Berliner is a kind of jelly doughnut, and people still debate if JFK stood before a huge crowd in Berlin in 1963, and said, “I am a Jelly Doughnut” (Ich bin ein Berliner). The more normal construction would have been “Ich bin Berliner.” I asked my German friend Torsten, who was an engineer at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, about that, and he said that context is everything, when it came to statements like JFK’s. So JFK was not a jelly doughnut, after all. He was a Mensch.

This basic burger recipe is similar to A. D Livingston’s, with a couple of additions:

  • Ground Chuck (I grind my own)
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Garlic Powder

Proportions are a matter of taste. I cook my burgers on a Lodge cast iron sportsman’s grill, over oak and hickory charcoal. I also like really strong dijon or creole mustard on my burger, and Vidalia onion. One thing I will never cook on my grill, however, is Mystery Burgers.